Ripken leaves mark on Atlanta

Sidelight

With O's not returning until 2001, third baseman goes out with 6-for-6 bang

June 14, 1999|By ROCH KUBATKO | ROCH KUBATKO,SUN STAFF

ATLANTA -- By the time Cal Ripken's second home run settled into the left-field seats at Turner Field last night, many in the crowd of 45,738 already had risen for an ovation that would accompany him around the bases and into the dugout. And it wouldn't be the last time they stood in unison.

If this was, indeed, his last game here -- the Orioles won't return until 2001 -- it proved memorable. Certainly, the people in charge of keeping the statistics won't soon forget it.

Ripken connected off Atlanta starter John Smoltz with two runners aboard in the first inning, then added a two-run shot off reliever Justin Speier in the fourth. He also had three singles and a double, becoming the first Oriole to collect six hits and tying the club record for total bases with 13 in a 22-1 victory.

"It's nice at 38 to have a first," said Ripken, who needs 77 hits for 3,000 and nine homers for 400. "Everything has to go right. I was seeing the ball pretty well. I had some good chances and some good swings."

The applause built for Ripken even before he grounded the first pitch from reliever Rudy Seanez into left field leading off the ninth. Just his appearance in the on-deck circle was enough to get a reaction. The ensuing hit lifted his average 30 points to a season-high .328, the first time he's been over .300 since last April.

He later scored to set another club record with five runs, to go with six RBIs, before a national TV audience.

"I was just trying to stay focused and stay in a groove," he said of his last at-bat. "You always try to get a hit every time you go to the plate. I was trying to stay calm and see the ball, and it found a hole."

Miller approached Ripken in the sixth inning to offer rest. Ripken declined with a shake of his head.

"No big deal," he said.

Ripken's first homer, on the first pitch from Smoltz, was the 390th of his career. It moved him past Johnny Bench and into a tie with Graig Nettles for 32nd place on baseball's all-time list.

Temporarily.

The second, on a 1-1 pitch after Will Clark had doubled in two runs, blew Ripken past Nettles and left him five shy of Joe Carter's 396. It also bumped the Orioles' lead to 11-1 and marked the 17th time he had gone deep twice in a game, the most recent before last night coming Sept. 15, 1996, at Detroit.

On a night when the Orioles devoured their opponent, there would be more numbers to crunch. A double over the head of center fielder Andruw Jones in the seventh accounted for the Orioles' 11th extra-base hit, which tied a club record.

And to think, it wasn't long ago that Ripken was the subject of speculation about whether a nerve irritation in his back would lead him from the disabled list to retirement.

Since returning to the active roster on May 13, he's batting .367 (40-for-109) with 10 doubles, seven homers and 21 RBIs, strengthening an average that wobbled at .179 when he went on the DL for the first time in his career, retroactive to April 18. Ripken has hit safely in 11 of his past 13 games, batting .464 (26-for-56) with four homers.

"With the benefit of hindsight, the disabled list was good for me," he said. "Obviously, physically I needed to heal and get sound to be able to go out and compete. And with losing my father, it turned out to be a really good time to heal mentally. I had a little bit of a break from the baseball action, and I distanced myself from the ballpark."

Last night, in a different city and a different league, he owned it.

"You could feel the support and that there was an acknowledgment, maybe, that I've had a pretty good career," he said. "I've enjoyed coming to Atlanta. We don't get to do it that often.

"A lot of people think I might not come back. Who knows?"

Calculating Cal

Cal Ripken's night in review:

At-bats: 6

Hits: First Oriole with 6

Doubles: 1

Home runs: 2

Runs: First Oriole with 5

RBIs: 6

Ripken's other big games 5 hits: 3 times previously 3 HRs, 8 RBIs: May 28, 1996, vs. Mariners

Cycle: May 6, 1984, vs. Rangers

Ripken's recent surge

How Ripken has hit before going on the disabled list April 18 and after coming off May 13:

Before

Avg. R H HR RBI

.179 1 5 0 2

After

Avg. R H HR RBI

.367 19 40 7 21

Overall

Avg. R H HR RBI

.328 20 45 7 23

Pub Date: 6/15/99

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