From the moment the ball left his bat, everyone at Camden Yards last night knew it sounded different. Even Cal Ripken knew.
"It had been so long since I hit one," Ripken said later, surrounded in the suddenly rejuvenated Orioles clubhouse. "I was pretty sure it was going to go out."
Ripken's first home run in 73 games, 291 at-bats and nearly three months provided more than just a much-needed insurance run in a 2-1 victory over the Kansas City Royals.
The home run -- only his 11th this season -- was a 383-foot shot to left-center off Royals starter Rick Reed with two out in the sixth and the Orioles ahead 1-0.
"It turned out to be a pretty big run," said Ripken, who later saved relief pitcher Gregg Olson's 33rd save with a diving catch to end the game.
The home run was the exclamation point on a 3-for-3 night that also included a single and double for the slumping Ripken. It was the first home run for the 32-year-old shortstop since he hit two against Milwaukee June 23.
"Tonight, I was consistent with every time at bat," said Ripken, who raised his season's average to .243. "I was hitting the ball well on the West Coast, but I wasn't getting the results."
The reaction to Ripken's home run was a minute-long standing ovation from the sellout crowd -- it lasted into Joe Orsulak's subsequent at-bat -- and immediate congratulations from his teammates.
Several players talked about the sense of relief on the bench when Ripken sent Reed's 3-2 fastball 10 rows back into the seats. Many players leaped onto the top row of the dugout to get a closer look.
"It was relief," said Brady Anderson, who ended an 0-for-15 streak with his 19th home run, his first since Aug. 21, in the third off Reed. "I took a deep breath. Maybe I was feeling the pressure he was feeling. I think we were happy that he got the home run drought out of the way."
Said manager Johnny Oates: "I think everybody was pretty excited. I know that I was. Hopefully, this will get him started."
Said Ripken: "Maybe it relieved some of the pressure. It started to be a monkey on my back. Hopefully, it's not there anymore."
Ripken said he was appreciative of the response by the fans and from his teammates. He admitted that the long drought had taken its toll mentally on him, and that he had been pressing to hit a home run for a while.
"When you don't hit a home run for a long time, you start feeling some restlessness when you go up to bat," said Ripken. "You think about it and sometimes those thoughts enter your mind at the wrong time."
Ripken didn't think of the streak in terms of diminished power. It was more a case of bad swings, and good swings that turned into long (and short) outs. Ripken and the Orioles hope that last night's performance was more revelation than aberration.
"I had never gone so long without a home run in my career," said Ripken. "I hope I never have to go through it again."
When Cal Ripken last homered before last night, he was on pace to record his 11th consecutive 20-home run season. A look at his home run pace then and now:
Date .....HRs... Proj.
June 23.. 10.... 23
Sept. 14. 11.... 12
A few assorted facts about Cal Ripken's home-run drought, which ended last night:
Last HR before last night: Ripken hit two, his ninth and 10th of the season, on June 23 against the Milwaukee Brewers
Batting avg. on June 23: .292
Batting avg. today: .243.