Otanez handles call no one expected

Tight back sends Ripken from game to hospital

rookie sub stays calm

Opening Day 1999

April 06, 1999|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

Orioles manager Ray Miller looked over at Willis Otanez sitting in the dugout yesterday and told him to get ready. He would be pinch hitting for Cal Ripken.

On Opening Day? In the third inning?

"It was normal to me," Otanez said.

It must have seemed unreal to everyone else at Camden Yards, but Miller wasn't taking any chances with Ripken, who complained of tightness in his back before and after batting in the second inning.

While Otanez was bouncing into a double play, Ripken was being checked by trainer Richie Bancells in the Orioles' clubhouse. Ripken then went to an area hospital with his wife, Kelly, before the conclusion of the Orioles' 10-7 victory over the Tampa Bay Devil Rays.

Miller and general manager Frank Wren classified Ripken as day-to-day. Wren wouldn't comment on whether the hospital visit was only for precautionary reasons. The Orioles also wouldn't disclose which hospital treated Ripken.

Ripken had done some extra hitting and taken ground balls before the game. He also jogged in the outfield after the opening ceremonies, which included a moment of silence and a video tribute to his father, who died March 25 of lung cancer. Ripken kept his head bowed while images of Cal Sr. were shown on the big screen, and later stood only a few feet from the orange No. 7 that has been painted in the third base coach's box.

In his only at-bat, Ripken laid down a sacrifice bunt under instructions from Miller, who was taking into account both the game situation and Ripken's physical condition.

The spasms "came out of nowhere," Miller said, "but a couple times the last couple of years he's had some stiffness in cold weather.

"I thought it was a prudent move. It's a cool day and I didn't want to take any chances. And Cal isn't the youngest man."

Third base coach Sam Perlozzo said he watched Ripken, 38, taking grounders with the usual ease and never sensed a problem. But first baseman Will Clark said he was surprised Ripken attempted to play, let alone stay until the third inning.

"I saw him before the game started and needless to say, he was in a lot of pain," Clark said. "One night I had the old back lock up on me and it's no fun. You can't do anything. You can't sneeze, you can't talk, you can't move. Cal was moving around pretty gingerly today.

"You want Cal to be there and be right in the middle of everything. But we've got two days, because we have an off day, before we strap it on again Wednesday and hopefully whatever was bothering him bad enough to get him out of the lineup will ease up on him so he can get back out there."

Brady Anderson said: "Whenever one of your teammates gets hurt and can't play especially for Cal, you know it's virtually impossible to get him out of the lineup, so that's disappointing."

Beaned on May 2, 1982, Ripken sat out a game, before starting his record-setting streak at the end of that month.

Otanez, who will turn 26 later this month, took his assignment in stride. "I've been playing this game for too long to be nervous," he said after going 0-for-3 and handling two chances at third.

Miller noticed the rookie's calm reaction, which differed somewhat from Ryan Minor's shocked response on Sept. 20 when told at the last minute he'd be starting for Ripken, ending the Iron Man's record consecutive-games streak at 2,632.

"I said, `Willis, get a bat,' and he said, `OK,' " Miller recalled. "Not like the guy last year who said, `Does he know?' "

Pub Date: 4/06/99

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