Cal's bad break: It's no iron nose Mishap: Ripken is struck during a photo session, but he's not expected to miss any games.

July 10, 1996|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

PHILADELPHIA -- Cal Ripken has dodged inside pitches and hurdled oncoming runners for the past 14 years, avoiding serious injury long enough to be crowned baseball's all-time iron man. So imagine the reaction at last night's All-Star Game, when he was nearly knocked out of the American League lineup by Chicago White Sox reliever Roberto Hernandez during the pre-game photo session.

That's right. Hernandez lost his balance on a platform in center field and accidentally delivered a forearm shiver that caught Ripken squarely in the face, breaking his nose and leaving his 2,239-game playing streak momentarily in jeopardy.

Ripken disappeared into the American League clubhouse while rumors of the injury spread throughout Veterans Stadium. But he emerged from the training room with his nose packed and straightened, ready to make his 13th consecutive All-Star start. He also is expected to be in the starting lineup when the Orioles open a crucial four-game series against the New York Yankees tomorrow at Camden Yards.

"It was a freak thing," Ripken said during a hastily arranged news conference before the game. "No way you blame anybody for that."

Nevertheless, Hernandez came close to becoming one of baseball's all-time villains. Ripken has played in every regular-season game since May 30, 1982, and made history Sept. 6, when he passed Lou Gehrig to become the most durable player in major-league history. He added to his leg-end earlier this year, when he broke Japanese star Sachio Kinugasa's world record of 2,215 straight games in Kansas City.

"It was bleeding pretty bad," said Hernandez. "I offered him my shirt to help stop the bleeding. I thought for a minute I was going to have to get a bodyguard for our next trip to Baltimore."

That apparently won't be necessary. Philadelphia Phillies team physician Dr. Philip Marone reset Ripken's nose and packed it with gauze. Ripken returned to the field for pre-game warm-ups and declared himself available to play.

"I think it's the first time I've ever broken my nose," Ripken said. "I play basketball in the off-season, and I've been hit in the face. It's the first time I've broken it, but I can't say it's the first time that I've had it checked to see if it's broken."

Ripken said that he will be examined today in Baltimore to make sure that the break did not cause any damage that might require further medical treatment, but he appeared confident that he would be ready to play tomorrow.

"I'm a pretty good healer," he said. "I think the only thing they might be concerned about is whether it was altering my breathing."

Ripken has shrugged off any suggestion that he consider ending the streak voluntarily, but he once again had to deal with the reality that the streak eventually will end. He just didn't want it to end that way.

"I was a little embarrassed, and I'm increasing that embarrassment up here," he said during the news conference. "The first thing that came to mind was that I didn't want [the media] to find out about this. I don't want to go down in All-Star history as the only guy ever injured during a team picture."

It already has been a strange year for Ripken, who has made unwanted headlines several times during the first half of the season. Manager Davey Johnson sparked controversy in May, when he told reporters he was considering moving Ripken to third base. Ripken again found himself in the news two weeks ago, when owner Peter Angelos called on him to take a more active leadership role. Now this.

"Yes, I'll do anything to get in the interview room," Ripken joked.

Hernandez, making his first appearance in an All-Star Game, expressed tremendous relief after seeing Ripken return to the field to take warm-ups. The White Sox will be in Baltimore Sept. 10.

"I thought, 'I hope it doesn't end the streak, or I'm dead,' " Hernandez said. "I saw him shagging balls after he came back out, and I said, 'All right, the streak is still alive.' "

Pub Date: 7/10/96

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