Long off tee, Ripken drives O's 13-1 win Practice sessions help as he shakes skid, Tigers with three hits

Mussina 3-hitter wins 17th

Post-Streak Week drought had reached 3-for-44, 0-for-15

September 22, 1995|By Buster Olney | Buster Olney,SUN STAFF

DETROIT -- Orioles manager Phil Regan read in the Detroit Free Press about how Cal Ripken, mired in a two-week slump, hit off a tee for 30 minutes in an empty Tiger Stadium after Tuesday's game. So Regan stopped Ripken Wednesday morning and told him he'd be willing to stay and throw batting practice.

No thanks, Ripken told the manager. He preferred the solitude, the time to think things out. Ripken hasn't had much time to himself the last month.

Ripken hit off a tee again Wednesday, and yesterday, he teed off on the Tigers, ripping three hits and driving in three runs, helping the Orioles blast Detroit, 13-1. It was Ripken's first multi-hit game since Sept. 6, the night he broke Lou Gehrig's consecutive-games record.

The Orioles' eight runs in the seventh inning were a season high, and the 13 runs total tied one. In his own subtle way, ace Mike Mussina honored Detroit veterans Lou Whitaker and Alan Trammell in the first inning, backing off the mound as the Tiger Stadium crowd gave them standing ovations for perhaps the last time. Then Mussina went to work, holding the Tigers hitless from the second inning to the seventh, and improved his record to 17-9.

Ripken hit three homers in three days during Streak Week, and he repeatedly mentioned how exhausted he felt. When teammates Rafael Palmeiro and Bobby Bonilla began to coax him into taking his lap around Camden Yards, he replied, no, he was just too tired to make it.

Streak Week ended, and Ripken stopped hitting. Going into yesterday's game, Ripken had three hits in his last 44 at-bats, and 15 straight hitless at-bats. Regan suggested that perhaps Ripken had gone through some sort of emotional letdown after Streak Week, a theory with which some of Ripken's teammates agreed.

Streak Week, Brady Anderson said, "was hard for me. I can imagine what it was like for him. It was so intense that whole week."

Chris Hoiles said: "Everywhere he went that week, everybody was asking him to do this and do that. There were always press conferences to go to, so much stuff to deal with. There's only so much concentration you can put into [a day], and if you spend it before a game ever starts, it makes it that much tougher to play.

"I think that had a lot of effect on him. He wasn't getting any time alone, he wasn't getting any time to spend with us [his friends]. Everybody needs that."

An hour after he went hitless on Wednesday, Ripken told teammates he was going to stick around and hit off the tee again. Hoiles, Anderson, Ben McDonald and bullpen catcher Sammy Snider decided to stick around; they dressed up as football players, and shagged flies. After about 15 minutes of serious concentration, Ripken began to drive balls into the left-field stands, and naturally Hoiles had to try to out-do him. The workout had turned into playtime. Five guys with a stadium at their disposal.

The five played a form of baseball golf, throwing the balls at a fixed target, like a ballbag (McDonald, coming back from tendinitis, propelled his ball with a fungo). Ripken won on the last hole -- "He wins at everything," Hoiles said. They tried driving fungoes over the upper deck, and after more than an hour, they walked off, smiling.

Ripken had a horrible round of batting practice before yesterday's game, jerking his bat against the side of the batting cage when he departed. Disgust.

But he hit a ground single in his first at-bat, and when he got to second, he and Trammell talked about how when you're young, you're in a slump, and how when you're older, your skill level is questioned. Ripken flied to short center and popped out in his next two at-bats.

The Orioles, down 1-0, rallied in the seventh. They had two runs with two outs and the bases loaded when Anderson fought off several pitches and hit an infield RBI single. The most important at-bat of the game, Regan said later.

Ripken mashed a line drive to left, and Phil Nevin played it curiously, pausing before finally charging and diving late. The ball bounced past him to the wall. Three runs scored, and Ripken pulled into second with a double.

"If that ball hadn't fallen in," he told Trammell, "I might've retired before you."

Ripken hit a line single in the ninth, and he had his first three-hit game since Sept. 5, No. 2,130.

"We'll see what happens tomorrow before we call it a breakout," Ripken said. "I'm still trying to figure it out. I don't think I'm ready to try to explain how things have been, how they've affected me. I've got to think about it first."

Maybe he'll find some more time alone and time with friends to do that.

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