Ripken drives to wire in 7-1 victory Three RBI give him seven in past 2 games

October 04, 1992|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,Staff Writer

CLEVELAND -- Shortstop Cal Ripken may have struggled a the plate for much of the season, but he obviously knows the importance of making a good last impression.

Ripken drove in three runs with a single and his 14th home run in the Orioles' 7-1 victory over the Cleveland Indians yesterday at Cleveland Stadium. He has seven RBI in the last two games and nine on the final road trip of the year, with at least an at-bat or two left in today's final game of the regular season.

"It's a long off-season," Ripken said, "so ending on a good note gives you something positive to think about during the winter. The season has been pretty frustrating for me personally."

These games may be meaningless, but the statistics are not. Ripken has raised his RBI total to 72, which is respectable by any but the standard that he set with the 34-home run, 114-RBI performance that made him the American League's Most Valuable Player in 1991. He'll get one or two more at-bats to add to that total today, but he is expected to make the earliest voluntary exit of his lengthy playing streak in the third inning.

Manager Johnny Oates said yesterday that he would remove Ripken after the second inning to give rookie shortstop Manny Alexander one extended appearance in the field. Ripken was ejected in the first inning of a game against the New York Yankees in 1987, but the earliest he has ever been removed by his manager was the fifth inning -- most recently on the final day of the 1989 season.

"I just wanted to get Manny out on the field to say 'Thank you for coming up,' " Oates explained. "Cal doesn't have a chance to win the RBI title or anything, so I don't think it's a big deal."

Ripken didn't make a big deal out of it, but he has never liked to come out of a game early. He didn't miss an inning through the first five years of his ironman streak, and he has never asked for an inning off.

"In some small way, I'd like to treat tomorrow like any other day," said Ripken, who will play in his 1,800th major-league game and 1,735th in a row, "but I can see the reason to get Manny some playing time and get him some at-bats. When I came up and people were playing in front of me, I remember looking forward to the opportunity to get into a game.

"One side of me says I want to play and the other side says that I should bend and let him play."

It isn't as if he can salvage his season in one day anyway. He will finish the year with career lows in home runs and RBI, and career highs in nagging bumps and bruises. The off-season awaits, and for once, Ripken appears to be looking forward to it.

"I'm never totally happy to see it end," Ripken said. "It has been a quick season in a lot of respects and a long one in some others. I guess I'm kind of glad it's over."

This has been his most trying year from a physical standpoint. He was bruised early by a couple of inside pitches and spent the latter part of the season playing with a sore back and a strained tendon in his right ankle. The 4 1/2 -month break will give him a chance to get healthy and get off to a better start in 1993.

"The off-season is always a time to physically rebuild and this will be no different," he said. "I intend to work just as hard as I have every other off-season. There has been a lot of improvement in the ankle already, but it's hard to totally heal when you're playing every day. Health-wise, it will be no problem getting ready for next year."

His strong performance the past two days will help with the mental part. Ripken slumped through the late summer and never regained the kind of momentum he had throughout the 1991 season. It might have been impossible to match the run production numbers he piled up last year -- especially with Brady Anderson and Mike Devereaux combining for nearly 187 RBI ahead of him -- but he would have liked to have avoided a career low.

Surpassing 70 RBI may have made it a respectable season to some, but Ripken didn't look at it that way.

"That means more to other people than it means to me," he said. "I've never driven in less than 81, so that is the number that I look at."

Still, his back-to-back three-hit performances the past two games took some of the sting out of a painful season and helped the Orioles record their 88th victory of the year.

Ripken singled home Brady Anderson for the first run of the game in the third and hit a two-run homer off reliever Mike Christopher in the fifth. Anderson scored his 99th run of the season on the base hit and became the sixth Oriole to score 100 in a season just moments before Ripken teed off in the fifth.

Starting pitcher Arthur Rhodes surrendered 10 hits over 6 2/3 innings, but he gave up just the one run and recorded his seventh victory in 12 decisions, thanks in part to a four-run fifth inning that broke open a close game.

It wasn't an overpowering performance by the young left-hander, but Rhodes completed a solid half-season at the major-league level that set him up to enter spring training next year as one of the five starters.

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