Ripken's impact is unquestioned Shortstop answers call with 2 hits and 3 RBIs

April 03, 1996|By Buster Olney | Buster Olney,SUN STAFF

Two records were established on Opening Day. Orioles shortstop Cal Ripken played in his 2,154th straight game, one better than his old mark.

And Ripken sat before a roomful of reporters for 15 minutes without being asked one question about The Streak. Remarkable.

He prefers it this way. Ripken prefers to answer questions about second baseman Roberto Alomar or new manager Davey Johnson, or his two hits and three RBIs in the Orioles' 4-2 victory over the Kansas City Royals yesterday.

Or he prefers to ask the questions. Midway through a postgame gathering, Ripken cut in on reporters and said he had a question for starter Mike Mussina: "Did Monday's rainout affect his performance on Opening Day?"

"I'll take it from here," Ripken said.

He encouraged reporters to ask Mussina questions, just as he steered inquiries to Alomar during a dual news conference in February. Ripken wants the focus shifted from him to his team. The burden of The Streak is off, now that the record is his.

"I don't think it's going to be like last year," said Orioles center fielder Brady Anderson. "He's already broken the record. I think it was something he came to enjoy and feel pride in. I'm sure he felt a sense of relief as well."

Shrugging off attention is impossible, however, when you drive in three of your club's four runs on Opening Day. With one out into the first inning, Alomar doubled in his first at-bat as an Oriole, off Royals ace Kevin Appier, pulling a grounder inside first base.

Rafael Palmeiro walked, and Bobby Bonilla smashed a long drive that center fielder Johnny Damon caught, and Alomar moved to third. Ripken was next, and he worked the count full.

As Appier went into his motion, Palmeiro broke from first. The pitch was a slider, and Ripken, fooled, adjusted his swing enough to pop a little fly toward center.

But Damon froze, thinking for a moment that Ripken's hard swing had resulted in good contact. Realizing his mistake, Damon raced in, but too late, the ball falling to the grass in front of him. Alomar scored easily and, as Damon fielded, Palmeiro was rounding third. Damon, off-balance, threw off line, and the Orioles led 2-0.

"It was my mistake," Damon said. "You talk about Albert Belle corking the bat, I think Cal could have hollowed the bat out."

Ripken came up with a runner in scoring position again in the third, after Bonilla doubled with two outs. Same thing: Appier threw a breaking ball, Ripken adjusted his swing and dumped a single into center, scoring Bonilla.

Ripken, who hit the ball harder making outs in the sixth and eighth innings, smiled later when asked about the hits.

"I knew you were going to ask me about those weak hits to center field," he said. "Appier just gives me fits. I hit two balls at the end of my bat. One time I hit the ball a little more solid [his first hit], and it just worked out. It was one of those rare times you drive in a run from first on a single."

A veteran AL observer predicted before the game that Ripken would get off to a great start, noting that he seems to be getting rTC his hands into a position to hit a little better than he did last year.

In '95, the observer said, Ripken's hands would get caught down and he would be jammed and have trouble making adjustments on breaking pitches.

Hitting coach Rick Down agreed that Ripken's swing looked good, his hands bringing the bat through the strike zone squarely, rather than hooking the ball to the left side or swinging late and missing.

"He did a nice job," Down said.

Pub Date: 4/03/96

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