Ripken's famine relief puts hope back on Orioles' plate

September 15, 1992|By Milton Kent | Milton Kent,Staff Writer

"Cal Ripken hit a home run last night."

That doesn't have the snap or drama of "Ask not what your country can do for you," or "Don't fire until you see the whites of their eyes," or even, "The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant!"

Still, in the midst of this American League East title race, the sentence, "Cal Ripken hit a home run last night," which no one had written or said in nearly three months, speaks volumes.

Consider all the things the above sentence overshadows from last night's 2-1 Orioles win over the Kansas City Royals at Camden Yards:

* The Orioles gained a game on the Toronto Blue Jays, who lost 2-1 to the Cleveland Indians, and former Oriole Jose Mesa.

* Brady Anderson broke an 0-for-15 string, his longest hitless swing of the year, with a solo home run in the third.

* Rick Sutcliffe turned in another dazzling mound effort, retiring the first 14 Kansas City batters, and allowing just one run and two hits in 7 1/3 innings.

And somehow, none of that mattered, because:

"Cal Ripken hit a home run last night."

And if it felt good to watch Ripken circle the bases for the first time since June 23, think of how good it felt for Ripken.

"It might have been a relief for them [the crowd], but not as much as it was for me," said Ripken.

In the 73 games and 291 at-bats since Ripken connected twice in Milwaukee, the following things happened:

* The nation had another birthday, and baseball had another All-Star Game.

* Schoolchildren got out of, then went back to school.

* Football teams went to camp, broke camp and started the regular season.

* Baseball owners and former commissioner Fay Vincent kissed and made up.

Well, it hasn't been that long, but you get the idea.

Frankly, Ripken's powerless slump had taken on nearly as big a life as his consecutive-games streak and seemingly had been as taxing, not only on him, but on his teammates.

"When he hit it, I took a big sigh of relief. I don't know why. I guess I was feeling the pressure he was feeling," said Anderson, who had been homerless himself for 20 games.

For his part, Ripken, who also singled and doubled last night, said he tried to keep the same basic philosophy that he always has to hitting, which is to relax at the plate and try to drive the ball.

"It feels good to go out and get some level of consistency," said Ripken. "Striking the ball well three times, I've done that before, but I wasn't getting hits."

Indeed, Ripken said he was hitting the ball well during the recent West Coast trip, but tailed off with the rest of the club when the Orioles returned home.

He appeared to be pressing at the plate, and popped up a number of pitches to the infield, frustrating himself and the Oriole Park crowds, who turned on him for one of the few times in his career.

"I know what he's been going through," said Randy Milligan. "He's getting the weight lifted off his shoulders. I don't think the home runs have bothered him, but I think he figured that if he gets the hits, the rest will come."

That would be most opportune for the Orioles, who won for only the second time in the first seven games of a nine-game homestand.

Even with last night's win, the Orioles were only able to tap out six hits against the Royals, who, themselves, have lost five of their last six and nine of their last 12 games.

"If he [Ripken] wasn't a Hall of Famer, this tension and pressure would be more evenly distributed throughout this clubhouse," said Sutcliffe.

He added, "There's a bunch of people in this clubhouse that need to look within themselves. Don't sit around waiting for Jr. [Ripken] to get hot or for [Mike] Mussina or [Ben] McDonald to pitch a shutout. We're not getting the job done."

Sutcliffe certainly got the job done last night, and then some, holding the Royals without a walk or hit through the first 4 2/3 innings, and keeping a clamp on them until the eighth, when Todd Frohwirth yielded a run-scoring single then got the final two outs of the inning.

"It's getting to be routine, isn't it?" manager Johnny Oates said of Sutcliffe's performance. "He goes out there and puts up the zeros."

Gregg Olson, whose last outing against Kansas City ended in a heart-breaking loss, worked a scoreless ninth, though he had runners on first and third with two out.

Olson appeared headed for more heartbreak when Kevin Koslofski sliced a liner that appeared headed for left, until Ripken dived into the hole to spear the shot and end the game.

In the grand scheme of things, precious little has changed from Sunday, except the Orioles gained one game on the Blue Jays.

They are still four games back with just 19 to play, and a monstrously important four-game set with third-place Milwaukee this weekend.

But if you're an Orioles fan, things seem a little brighter today because of one simple, yet powerful sentence:

"Cal Ripken hit a home run last night."

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