Minor doesn't blink in spotlight Ripken's replacement stands up to difficult task


September 22, 1998|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF Sun staff writer Kent Baker contributed to this article.

TORONTO -- The Orioles' lineup, and Ryan Minor's life, returned to normal last night.

Cal Ripken remained the third baseman, with no last-minute announcements to the contrary. And Minor sat on the bench, where he had expected to spend most of Sunday night until being pulled from the dugout by Ray Miller and told he was taking Ripken's place.

"He said, 'Does he know?' Those were his exact words," Miller said. "I was like, 'Yeah, he knows.' What, he thought I was going to send him out there and not tell Cal?"

Ripken's consecutive-games streak would end at 2,632. Minor's odyssey was just beginning.

"I got a lot of phone calls from different radio stations and friends," Minor said. "I didn't get much rest. I felt like taking the phone off the hook."

Minor, 24, took himself off the hook Sunday night by playing well under difficult circumstances, getting his third major-league hit and making two diving stops. His athletic background, including an appearance in the NCAA basketball tournament while at the University of Oklahoma, made him better prepared to deal with the situation.

"I tried not to play too scared. I wanted to go out and try to do something good, something special, for that night. But I was just happy I didn't go out and make any errors. I was just trying to be solid and relax," he said.

"The way everybody was talking, I knew maybe one day I'd be able to play third for the Orioles. It just happened quicker than I thought. I didn't expect it for a year or two, even longer."

Jerry Hairston, Minor's teammate at Double-A Bowie this season, didn't believe it either. He advised Minor not to "fall for that."

"I saw him sitting there pounding his fist in his glove and asked what he was doing," Hairston recalled. "I said, 'You're sitting here next to me,' and I looked over at Cal and he just smiled."

Reliever Alan Mills used the bullpen phone to call Ripken in the dugout. "I was just wondering what was going on," Mills said. "I was wondering if he was hurt."

Ripken spent much of the game sitting with the relievers and getting a new perspective on the game.

"He was relaxed like he usually is," Mills said. " I think he was fascinated with being able to relax and take in everything, see the whole game from the outside. When you're not playing, you can do that. When's he had the chance to do that?"

Not since May 29, 1982.

No Reboulet regrets

Miller's options at third base weren't limited to Minor. Jeff Reboulet had played the position but wasn't a serious consideration.

For Miller, it just seemed more appropriate to go with Minor.

"The kid's a third baseman and Cal said all along when the time comes it would be for the best of the organization," Miller said. "And playing a utility infielder in his place would be saying we're just ending the streak."

Reboulet said he didn't feel slighted. If anything, he may have experienced a sense of relief. "I can't say I was sitting there

thinking, 'Aw, I wish that was me.' That never really crossed my mind.

"I guess the only thought I had was when I signed here [in January 1997] that there was a possibility it could be me, but I haven't really thought about it since. As far as me being disappointed that it wasn't me, definitely not."

Like just about everyone else in the dugout, Reboulet didn't know Ripken had taken himself out of the lineup. He saw players rush onto the field in the first inning and noticed something strange.

"Cal didn't budge," Reboulet said. "I thought, 'Oh man, he's not moving.' I didn't expect it to end, at least not while I was still playing."

'Other' Ripken sits, too

Former Oriole Bill Ripken, released by the Detroit Tigers earlier this month, is sitting tight.

"I don't have any plans, so there isn't much story," he said from his Fallston home. "Right now, I'm just kind of hanging out at home watching television."

Ripken, 33, broke into the major leagues in 1987 with the Orioles, joining older brother Cal and dad Cal Sr. (then the manager) in a heralded reunion on the field.

He has had two stints in Baltimore, leaving for Texas as a free agent in 1993, then returning to the Orioles as a free agent for the 1996 season. He also played briefly for the Cleveland Indians.

"I guess I'll see what's out there and if something comes up I guess I'm going to think about it," he said. "It has to be the right opportunity."

Fussell or Coppinger?

The Orioles will need a fifth starter for Friday's game in Boston during the final series. That's the only decision Miller has made on the subject so far.

The candidates to fill the slot include right-handers Chris Fussell and Rocky Coppinger.

Fussell, who spent most of the season at Double-A Bowie, made an emergency start last Tuesday when Sidney Ponson's blister wouldn't allow him to pitch. Making his major-league debut, Fussell went five strong innings but was denied the victory when Texas catcher Ivan Rodriguez homered off Armando Benitez in the ninth. He also appeared in relief Sunday against New York, yielding two runs in three innings.

Coppinger has pitched three times since being recalled, including a Sept. 13 start against Anaheim when he allowed four runs in five innings.

Around the horn

Catcher Lenny Webster was scratched last night because of a sore left shoulder that resulted from diving into home plate Sunday night. He was replaced by Charlie Greene. Carlos Delgado's home run gave the Blue Jays a club-record 102 this season.

Pub Date: 9/22/98

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