Opening Day HR sets tone for run at division title THE RIPKEN YEARS: 1989

July 23, 1995|By Brad Snyder | Brad Snyder,Sun Staff Writer

He set the tone for the season with one swing of the bat. Cal Ripken's three-run homer off Boston Red Sox ace Roger Clemens helped produce a 5-4, Opening Day victory.

"It meant we weren't going to go 0-21 again," said Ripken's brother Bill.

Winning helped Cal Jr. forget about the indignities of the previous season - the 0-21 start, the 107 losses, the firing of Cal Sr. and the off-season trade of Eddie Murray. If 1988 was the year baseball became a business for Cal Jr., 1989 was the year it became a game again.

"Winning is always No. 1 with Cal," said Dave Johnson, then a 29-year-old rookie pitcher from Middle River. "I could just tell even though he never said that to me. It was just the idea. He was the leader. He was the one everybody could look up to."

Ripken had been a winner before - he had been Rookie of the Year in 1982 and Most Valuable Player in the world championship season of 1983 - but those really weren't his teams. Those were Weaver's, Palmer's, Singleton's and Murray's teams.

Murray had left the Orioles spiritually in 1986, and two years of losing went by before the Orioles became Ripken's team.

"He is the team," former Orioles teammate Jamie Quirk said. "His work habits are unbelievable. If you play for the Baltimore Orioles, you're not ever going to dog it. The team plays the way Cal plays."

The Orioles started playing like Ripken in 1989, running into walls, taking the extra bases, squeezing the most out of their talent. With 13 rookies and 22 players with less than two years of major-league service, the team was in desperate need of a role model.

Ripken, the only holdover from the 1983 World Series team, showed them how to do it from Day One.

Newly elected President Bush threw out the first ball, rocker Joan Jett sang the national anthem and 52,161 people packed Memorial Stadium. The defending AL East champions, the Boston Red Sox, were on the field. And the game's most feared pitcher, Clemens, was on the mound.

The Orioles, coming off the worst season in club history, weren't given a chance. Members of the media joked that Clemens would no-hit them.

"It made the win more sweet," then-manager Frank Robinson said, "and it might have set the tone for the year, going out and battling, not giving up."

In the sixth inning, Ripken batted with one out, men on second and third and the Orioles trailing 3-1. He had struck out against Clemens in the second inning on "two nasty sliders and a 100-mph fastball." This time, the count was 2-2. Clemens threw him another fastball.

It was supposed to be high and inside, but tailed back over the plate. Ripken nailed it over the left-field wall. He received a thunderous standing ovation and made a curtain call, taking a few steps out of the dugout and saluting the fans with a wave of his left hand.

The Red Sox later tied the game at 4; the Orioles eventually won it on Craig Worthington's 11th-inning single. But the inspiration came from Ripken's home run. "There seemed to be something magical when he hit the home run," Bill Ripken said. "He hit it off the Rocket. It was Opening Day."

Cal Jr. had introduced his teammates to Orioles Magic, Ripken style. It was a magic he had not felt in a long time.

"He's one of the best pitchers in the game," Cal Ripken said at the time. "The fans are going wild. You get that feeling. You could almost sense this season would be different.

"As the season has gone on, I've had quite a few of those at-bats. The importance of driving in runs is so big, your concentration's so keen, it's almost like there's a fear factor involved. You're so wound up, so high-strung, you're almost nauseous. The electricity has come back to the game."

Despite his lapses that season - suffering a 40-game homer drought in April and May, going 1-for-14 with the bases loaded and hitting .198 in September and October - his teammates say Ripken was a winner.

"Cal had it, that knack to do whatever it takes to win," Johnson said. "There was an intensity that you could see and that you could feel."

The Orioles did not go from worst to first in 1989, but they were in the pennant race from the first day to the second to last. And it all started with that one swing.

SEASON HIGHLIGHTS

* Leads major-league shortstops in both home runs and RBIs for the sixth time in the last seven years.

* Makes only eight errors and puts together a then career-high 47-game errorless streak (239 total chances).

* Starts his sixth straight All-Star Game, an American League record.

* Becomes the first shortstop to hit 20 or more homers in eight straight seasons.

* Leads major-league shortstops in putouts (276), assists (531), total chances (815) and double plays (119).

* Finishes second in the Most Valuable Oriole voting behind Gregg Olson.

* Leads the Orioles in hits, doubles and RBIs and finishes second in home runs.

* Chosen the American League's Smartest Player (baseball sense) by A.L. managers in a Toronto Sun survey.

* Wins the first Bart Giamatti Caring Award presented by the Baseball Alumni Team.

* Pete Rose receives a lifetime suspension on Aug. 23 for gambling on baseball.

* Nine days after Rose's suspension, commissioner Bart Giamatti (right) dies.

* At 5:04 p.m., just minutes before the scheduled start of Game 3 of the World Series, a catastrophic earthquake hits the San Francisco Bay area. After 10 days, the Series resumed.

* An arbitrator orders major-league baseball's 26 owners to pay approximately $10.5 million as compensation for their collusion to restrict free agency after the 1985 season.

. . . and the world

* The Berlin Wall tumbles.

* The tanker Exxon Valdez spills more than 10 million gallons of oil into Alaska's Prince William Sound, creating the largest incident of its kind in U.S. history.

* The United States sends troops into Panama to restore order and capture Gen. Manuel Noriega.

* The Soviet Union completes its withdrawal from Afghanistan.

* An explosion in a 16-inch gun turret kills 47 sailors on the battleship USS Iowa.

5/8

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