Relaxed Ripken stays on bat tear Shortstop handles anxiety, pitching for 55 RBIs

SIDELIGHT

Sidelight

June 22, 1996|By Jason LaCanfora | Jason LaCanfora,SUN STAFF

Cal Ripken continued a home run barrage last night that began in late May when manager Davey Johnson was toying with the idea of moving the shortstop to third base.

Ripken isn't going anywhere.

Since that trip to Seattle, Ripken has gone deep and driven in runs at a remarkable rate. He's now on pace to put up numbers similar to his 1991 MVP season in which he hit 34 homers, drove in 114 runs and batted .323.

The world's most durable baseball player was at it again last night in consecutive game 2,223. He popped two home runs, his 13th and 14th of the year, and collected five RBIs for a season total of 55 in Baltimore's 9-3 win over Kansas City.

Ripken busted out of a 2-for-13 slide seven games ago and hasn't looked back. He's on pace for a 33-home run, 128-RBI season. Those are impressive numbers, even for him.

The 128 RBIs would be a career high. Ripken has hit 30 or more homers just once in his career, the 34 in '91.

Relaxation seems to be the key to Ripken's recent success.

"You can play the game for a long time, but you still feel anxiety at the plate," he said. "Any anxiety or doubt in your abilities will affect your at-bats. It's a matter of waiting that split-second longer. I wish I knew what the exact secret of what it takes to relax was. Somewhere along the line, I've been able to relax a little bit."

Ripken wasn't that relaxed in the third inning when he was thrown out while taking a wide turn around first base after knocking in a run with a single.

Ripken said he plays much better with his emotions in check, and he was clearly upset by the call of first base umpire Rick Reed. Ripken cooled down between innings, though, and went back to his level-headed approach with the bat in his hand.

"He made them pay," Johnson said. "I wish everyone on this team had the determination that he has."

This year's power surge is a recent development. All but two of Ripken's homers have come in the past 25 games. He has hit safely in 24 of the last 28 games, going 38-for-112 (.339) during the stretch with the 12 homers and 36 RBIs, raising his average to .288.

Ripken's season seemed to change in Seattle when Johnson talked about playing him at third. That's when he began hitting.

He was named American League Player of the Week for May 27-June 2 after going 11-for-20 with five home runs and 14 RBIs. On May 28, he erupted for his first career three-homer game, driving in a career-high eight runs.

That was the night he was expected to be moved to third. The next night he clubbed home run No. 334, moving past Eddie Murray into first place on the Orioles' all-time list.

"It's good to have a break-out game like in Seattle," Ripken said. "I felt more relaxed on the inside. It was good to get some hits and home runs and play the game at ease."

Ripken has tinkered with his stance virtually all season long. He has gone from a more closed stance to an open one, then went from holding the bat high above his head to lowering it to its current position on his shoulder.

Johnson has watched the relaxation process first-hand.

"He was really diving and hooking the ball," Johnson said. "He's not doing that anymore. He looks relaxed and comfortable."

Pub Date: 6/22/96

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