Ripken proves a hit at third and even more so at plate Torrid start continues with third homer, 3 hits


April 07, 1997|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

ARLINGTON, Texas -- Third baseman Cal Ripken had a very good week. He agreed to terms on a rich contract extension minutes before the Orioles opened the regular season Wednesday and has spent the first five games of the new season showing the club's front office that you get what you pay for.

The Orioles didn't fare well yesterday, but Ripken remained on a roll. He homered in the second inning and had two singles and two RBIs to account for most of his team's offensive production in a 9-3 loss to the Texas Rangers at The Ballpark in Arlington.

OK, so the Orioles did not equal the best five-game start in franchise history, losing for the first time this year, but Ripken is off to one of the best starts of his storied career. He has hit safely in every game and ranks among the league leaders in several categories.

"It's always good to get off to a good start," Ripken said. "For me, personally, it helps me relax a little bit not press. A lot of times, people make a big deal out of how you start whether it's positive or negative, but you could have five really good games at any time in the season. It's just magnified at the start."

Ripken's average needs no magnification. He finished the first week of the new season batting .476 with three home runs and six RBIs -- the early burst of power in contrast to last season, when he did not hit his third home run until May 17.

"It's always nice to drive the ball," Ripken said. "There is so much pressure in the game and you can put pressure on yourself when you go a long time without hitting any. There's an external pressure that's created. It's good to hit some homers and get that column filled, not that it's necessarily a disaster if you don't."

He swung the bat well throughout spring training and finished the exhibition season batting .338, basically picking up where he left off last year, when he recovered from a less spectacular start to hit 26 homers and drive in 102 runs. Still, he didn't know what to expect from this season, considering the switch from shortstop to third base and the contract situation that hung over his head until just minutes before the season opener.

"It's hard to get a true indication [in spring training] because you're not playing every day and you're trying to get your work in. You don't get a whole lot of at-bats in a row. The whole concept is to get in shape to play."

Ripken still is re-learning the finer points of playing third base, but he already is hitting like a prototype third baseman. That should be no surprise -- since he set the major-league record for career home runs by a shortstop -- but there was some question whether his attempt to establish himself as a Gold Glove-caliber third baseman would detract from his performance at the plate.

It hasn't, and his play and the field has been solid as well.

He made an outstanding play on Opening Day to get starter Jimmy Key out of a fourth-inning jam.

There also have been a couple of bad ones. He was charged with his second error in five games on a bouncer by former teammate Mike Devereaux in the second inning of Saturday night's game.

"In spring training, nobody cut the ball down that hard on me," Ripken said. "The balls I've made errors on get on you so fast that you get caught in the middle. That's an adjustment you make by playing the position for a while."

Pub Date: 4/07/97

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