Nose news good news to Hernandez

July 10, 1996|By John Eisenberg

PHILADELPHIA -- Cal Ripken was in the clubhouse, wincing at the sight of his broken nose.

The rest of the American League team was going through batting practice before the All-Star Game last night at Veterans Stadium.

Roberto Hernandez was praying.

"Please," said Hernandez, the Chicago White Sox's closer. "Please let him be OK."

Minutes earlier, Hernandez had lost his balance climbing down from a platform after a photo shoot in the outfield and blasted Ripken in the nose with his left forearm.

It was an accident -- Hernandez was just trying not to topple over backward -- but the Iron Man's beak was transformed into a splattered mass of cartilage.

Not since the Liberty Bell had a Philly crack caused such a commotion.

Ripken's American League teammates crowded around to watch as blood began to drip from his nose.

"Ugh," several said.

"You want to use my shirt to stop the bleeding?" Hernandez asked, aghast.

A doctor was called.

It was the stroke of bad luck Ripken had always avoided, the kind of freak injury it probably was going to take to end his consecutive-games streak.

The doctor hustled Ripken into the clubhouse, batting practice commenced in the evening humidity and Hernandez was left to contemplate a most unpleasant question:

Had his forearm smash to Ripken's nose ended the streak that saved baseball last season?

"I'm just glad it wasn't my elbow," Hernandez said later. "It would have been worse."

It seemed bad enough at the time, at least for 20 minutes or so.

Roberto Alomar and Brady Anderson, Ripken's Orioles teammates, approached Hernandez with smiles and told him to hire a bodyguard when the White Sox come to Baltimore in September.

They were kidding, sort of.

"Yeah," Hernandez said to them, "make sure you get me the best bodyguard available."

He would need that and more as a streak killer, certainly. But was he?

Back in the clubhouse, Ripken was now in the care of the Philadelphia Phillies' team physician, Dr. Phillip Marone. Several other doctors huddled around.

"When I finally got a chance to look at it in the mirror," Ripken said later, "I also went 'ugh.' It didn't look so good. Lots of blood. All that good stuff."

Ripken said he's been hit in the nose many times before, mostly playing pickup basketball in the winter.

"I've been checked for a broken nose many times," he said, "but this is the first time I've broken it."

Marone didn't resort to medical science in its highest form. He grabbed Ripken's beak with his hands and straightened that sucker out.

Erk! Creak! Snap!

"Pinched it, twisted it, snapped it," Ripken said.

Rendering it as good as new?

"I can breathe all right," Ripken said later, inhaling as a test. "I may have a couple of black eyes tomorrow. But I don't anticipate it swelling up and looking too bad."

After making sure things were back to sniff, er, snuff, Ripken bounded out of the clubhouse, raced down the ramp and rejoined batting practice.

Hernandez turned around and caught sight of him shagging flies in the outfield.

"All right," Hernandez said, happier than he is when he records a save, "the streak is still alive."

He had recorded his biggest save of all -- his good name.

A few minutes later, American League manager Mike Hargrove wandered by.

"Cal," Hargrove said, "can you play tonight?"

Ripken said he could.

Nosegate had a happy ending.

When news of the freak injury was announced in the press box 90 minutes before the game, dozens of reporters stampeded to the field. The press box announcer had said Ripken would test his nose in batting practice before deciding whether to play.

Not true.

"He's fine and he's playing," Orioles spokesman John Maroon said on the field as Ripken batted in the cage with cotton stuffed in his nose. (He would wind up playing six innings in the field and going 0-for-3 with two flyouts.)

When a brief rain shower ended batting practice, Ripken took the cotton out of his nose and jogged into the interview room to explain what had happened.

"I wanted to keep it a secret," he said, smiling. "The last thing you want is to go down in history as the only All-Star injury sustained in a team picture."

He was asked if this would hinder his performance or -- gasp -- keep him from playing when the Orioles resume their season against the Yankees Thursday night at Camden Yards.

"I'm a pretty good healer," he said. "If I swing and miss, then something could be wrong [with the nose]. Or if I make an error, then something could be wrong.

"I reserve the right to use this as an excuse."

Back in the clubhouse, Hernandez was visibly relieved.

"I guess I got my 15 minutes of fame," he said, "the wrong way."

Pub Date: 7/10/96

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