Like 2,127 games before, Ripken just does his job

September 04, 1995|By JOHN EISENBERG

Three games until G-Day, and there is tumult all around him now. Several standing ovations a game. Emotional applause coming from the opponent's dugout. Streak banners hanging on the warehouse. Classical music crashing and booming over the public address system at Camden Yards.

But Cal Ripken Jr. is just showing up and playing ball. Like always.

All eyes are on him, the hype is raining down, the historians are framing their prose, and what is Ripken doing to mark his defining moment, the event of an entire baseball generation?

Showing up. Playing ball. Taking his cuts. Fielding his position.

Like always.

If this were Hollywood, he would be banging home runs off the warehouse wall and leading the Orioles in a late charge to the pennant as he chased down Lou Gehrig's consecutive-games record, rising to the greatest occasion of his sporting life.

But this is baseball reality, the Orioles are going nowhere in a desultory season, and Ripken was good for two singles in five at-bats, two RBIs, two putouts and six assists yesterday in the Orioles' 9-6 loss to the Seattle Mariners at Camden Yards.

It was, for him, a day that was pretty good but not special, and, thus, not much different from many days over the past 14 seasons. Thereby making it a day that, in its own way, was a perfect celebration of Ripken's consecutive-games streak.

Such is the irony underscoring this thing called Streak Week that is upon us now. Ripken passing Gehrig is an event worthy of pomp and circumstance and a parade, a high historical occasion, but rising to occasions isn't what Ripken is about. He is about persistence and consistency over the long haul, thriving almost without notice in the daily tedium, mastering the "no game is bigger than any other" mentality.

Showing up. Playing ball. Taking his cuts. Fielding his position. .. Regardless of the situation.

Just a guess, but he'll probably go 1-for-4 when he breaks the record Wednesday night, and, though hardly dramatic, it would be a perfect summation of the many, many games in a row that preceded it. No glitter, just the grind. The workingman's grind.

Yesterday -- game No. 2,128, played on a warm, blue afternoon, in a light wind -- Ripken raced Brady Anderson to second base as they emerged from the dugout at the top of the first inning, still fooling around, not weighted down by the enormity of the upcoming week. Then he made the first putout of the game, ranging backward and to his left to catch a popup down the left-field line. Another hard play made easy.

In the bottom of the first, he came to bat with one out and runners on first and second. Andy Benes was pitching. Ripken worked the count full and fouled off three straight strike threes, refusing to give in. On the 10th pitch of the at-bat, he singled into right-center, driving in his 67th run of the season.

In the top of the second, he charged a slow roller into the infield grass, grabbed the ball and flipped it to first baseman Rafael Palmeiro just in time to beat the runner. In the bottom of the inning, he grounded out with two runners in scoring position.

The baseball grind in a nutshell: you win some, you lose some.

As the game wore on, Ripken grounded out to first, grabbed a hard-hit bouncer and started a double play, flied out to center and singled in another run. Up, down, up, down.

At the end of the day, standing in front of his locker wearing a dirty uniform, he spoke for a few minutes before trundling off to yet another photo shoot. The conversation turned to the ceremony after the fifth inning, when the game became official, a new banner was unfurled on the warehouse and Ripken was another game closer to Gehrig. There has been such a ceremony at each game on this homestand.

On this day, the Mariners joined the prolonged ovation, standing and applauding in unison on the top step of the dugout. That succeeded in shattering Ripken's famous concentration -- for a moment.

"There's a lot of power in that moment," he said. "I'm very appreciative, but I don't know what to do. I become lost on the field. You stand there and start reflecting on your career. It's hard not to get teary-eyed."

Someone asked him: "How are you holding up amid all this?"

He smiled. "I think I'm doing OK," he said. Indeed. He is batting .357 in his last seven games, has 27 RBIs since July 30. He'll have 15 homers and 80 RBIs by season's end. Another solid year at the plate, to go with a superb year afield.

Showing up, Playing ball.

"You find your mind wandering out there during that ceremony," he said, "but all you have to do is tell yourself, 'Hey, the first batter could hit a line drive right at you.' So you settle down and go, 'OK, who is hitting? What'd he do last time? What's the situation here?' "

Back in the game.

Back in the grind.

Like always.

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