Bat booming, range afield, Ripken aces first tests

Sidelight

`I'm extremely happy,' he says of 5-RBI weekend

May 17, 1999|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

ARLINGTON, Texas -- The Orioles' four-game series against the Texas Rangers may be measured by three losses, but it also was celebrated for its not-so-small victories.

While the Orioles only averted a sweep via yesterday's 16-5 pounding, third baseman Cal Ripken successfully completed a four-game test of the lower back that betrayed him earlier this season.

Ripken spiced the Orioles' most lopsided win this season with an infield single and an RBI double, his fourth extra-base hit in as many games. The outing elevated him to 6-for-18 with five RBIs since rejoining the club Thursday. Diving, running and hitting has done nothing to diminish the 38-year-old's sense of rejuvenation that had accompanied him from a three-day rehabilitation assignment in Sarasota, Fla.

"I'm extremely happy and satisfied with how things have gone and how my back feels," Ripken said. "I'm glad to get results. I've been tested a little bit, but I've felt really good when I've been tested."

Though Ripken committed his sixth error Thursday night when Rangers third baseman Todd Zeile smashed a grounder through his legs, he showed greater flexibility throughout the series, including in yesterday's sixth inning when he retreated to the outfield grass to backhand another grounder by Zeile and made a strong, accurate throw for the out. Ripken cleanly handled four chances after contributing five assists and a putout in the three losses.

Reiterating his sense of mental and physical freedom, Ripken said, "The disabled list allowed me to come to terms with a few things. It allowed me to heal up mentally and physically."

Besides showing enhanced range, Ripken's bat has looked much quicker. The convoluted stance he brought into the season has been replaced by a simpler, more relaxed look. Friday night he pulled his first homer of the season off Rangers closer John Wetteland. Saturday against 20-game winner Rick Helling, he drove a double into the right-field corner. Yesterday he drove a third ball to center for a double, giving him more extra-base hits since his return from the disabled list than he had before going on it April 18.

"You're quicker to the ball as a result of being able to wait and see the ball," said Ripken, whose average has risen from .179 to .239 since returning.

A fourth-inning smash from Roberto Kelly yesterday told Ripken the most. On a scorched grounder that can't be duplicated in practice, Ripken stayed low and smothered the one-hopper and recovered to easily throw out the above-average runner.

"Those are the plays you look at," Ripken said. "The routine plays those are things you practice. But to have one come down on you and block it to make a difficult play, that says more."

Less than four weeks after rising from a chair proved a challenge, Ripken rejoiced in his mobility. "I'm used to seeing him normal, not hurt," said center fielder Brady Anderson, Ripken's teammate for 12 seasons. "He looks normal to me now."

Ripken put it most succinctly, saying, "I feel like I can speak to my body and my body listens."

Pub Date: 5/17/99

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