Ripken has iron will, too He's determined not to sit even if East race decided

Sidelight

September 06, 1997|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

NEW YORK -- The Streak. It has survived bench-clearing brawls, slumps, sickness and a fistful of managerial changes, but it has never been confronted by potentially meaningless games in September.

Now it's official: the Iron Man will survive the Orioles' success, as well.

Before the club extended its American League East lead over the second-place New York Yankees to 8 1/2 games, the issue of Cal Ripken receiving increased down time -- even a day off -- began to course through the Orioles' clubhouse, even reaching the desk of manager Davey Johnson.

Ripken called it "a non-issue" yesterday. Johnson has stepped around the topic. The message: Ripken is firmly in control of the streak and will continue to play at his pleasure.

"Whatever he wants to do, I'll accommodate it," Johnson said.

Johnson added it's unlikely Ripken would serve as a designated hitter. "I don't think he'd consider anything other than playing six innings. I know Cal. DH would be totally out of the question."

Johnson suggested earlier this week that he may seek to rest Ripken late in games as the postseason approaches. The issue chafed at the player. Ripken, who last night started his 2,454th consecutive game, has no intention of sitting out a game and sees little benefit to sitting out chunks of games, even with a back condition that has bothered him for most of this season.

"When games have been decided, when games are won or lost, I have come out. That doesn't give you a physical relief or a mental relief," Ripken said. "The spirit of competition in the game has changed because the score has changed. It doesn't miraculously make you feel better physically and it doesn't miraculously make you feel better mentally. It's unclear what the benefits are."

Several teammates agreed. "It's not a real day off when you come out of a game early. You're still taking batting practice, taking ground balls and playing," first baseman Rafael Palmeiro said. "Playing six innings is the same as playing nine innings. You don't relax. You're playing."

Sitting Ripken would likely create an unnecessary distraction to a powerful season. Contemplating the reaction, Johnson said, "They'd swarm on this place wondering what's wrong. Anybody within distance would probably swarm here just to be around the day Cal took off. They'd want to know if he's on his deathbed. What's wrong with the world?

"That's not something we're going to address this year or probably any year."

Ripken, 37, is nonplused by the issue, which previously has arisen when he has fought slumps. However, he is not slumping. Instead, Ripken is hitting .357 in his past 32 games, raising his average to .291.

But he has been visibly hurting.

As recently as Thursday night he winced when leaving the batter's box. When Ripken was thrown out trying to score from second Tuesday night against Florida, one teammate observed that "he was running the last 20 feet in quicksand." For his part, Ripken says his pain "is getting better."

"There are all kind of directions that you can examine this from," Ripken maintained. "Is it rest if you get one day off? Is it rest if you get a week off? If you take a week off, would you be stale if you didn't play? There are a whole lot of different angles that go around. The fact of the matter is you play. It's a long season. The schedule is what the schedule is."

And Cal is Cal. Unlike 1996, when Johnson irritated the player by discussing his position switch before Ripken had fully agreed, the Orioles' manager has been almost deferential this season. "I was treating him like a normal human being a normal superstar. He's not normal. But you learn to appreciate it," Johnson said.

Asked to discuss his playing time when and if the team clinches, Ripken called such talk "speculation."

"I don't think it's productive," he said. "As a matter of fact, I think it's counterproductive. So really to me it doesn't seem to be an issue at all."

Pub Date: 9/06/97

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