Even before the first pitch had been thrown in Sunday's game in Atlanta, Orioles hitting coach Terry Crowley said he knew Cal Ripken was poised for a big night. The clues were evident during batting practice. All Crowley had to do was listen.
"The sound of the bat meeting the ball was special," he said. "Cal was surprised because he said he didn't really feel he was all that locked in, but I really felt that he was."
Ripken became the first player in franchise history to collect six hits in one game, homering twice, singling three times and rapping a double in the Orioles' 22-1 victory over the Braves. He scored five runs, also a club record, and tied another with 13 total bases. Toss in six RBIs, and it was unforgettable.
"There's a point where you wake up and your eyes open and you wonder if it actually did happen, or if you just dreamed it happened. It's nice to know it did happen," Ripken said before last night's game.
He hit a three-run homer off John Smoltz in the first inning and singled to right in the third to drive the Braves' right-hander from the game. He added a two-run shot in the fourth, reached on an infield hit in the sixth, doubled in a run in the seventh and grounded a single to left in the ninth. Six trips, six hits.
"There are so many factors that enter into [getting six hits]," Crowley said. "First of all, you have to have a lot of ability to get one hit, let alone six. You have to have your teammates bat around enough times to get you to the plate six times. And the bases have to be crowded so they have to throw you strikes.
"What was especially impressive about it was every one of those pitchers were quality pitchers. They were good. Any pitching staff would be happy to have any one of those guys on their team. The beautiful thing about baseball is, you never know."
Ripken raised his average 30 points to .328 Sunday. He kept it rising last night, going 2-for-4 with two RBIs. He has hit safely in 23 of the past 27 games since returning from the disabled list, batting .372 (42-for-113) with 10 doubles, six homers and 23 RBIs.
His second-inning RBI last night gave him 1,538 for his career, moving him past Joe DiMaggio into 32nd place all-time.
He has also returned to a more orthodox stance after doing the usual experimenting at the beginning of the season.
"They just evolve," he said of the varying stances. "You work to get a certain feel, to see the ball and stay on the ball and have a short, quick swing. Right now, this one's evolved into something that feels pretty good."
Crowley senses that Ripken is feeling pretty good these days. He isn't dogged by the same back pain that forced him on the DL for the first time in his career, and his mind is clearer after having time to grieve his father's death.
"When I see him moving around good and swinging the bat good, I know he's feeling healthy and feeling good and feeling strong," Crowley said.
"Cal and I know each other well. I played for his dad for three years in the minors, and his dad was a coach in the big leagues when I was a player, and then at the end of my career Cal and I were teammates.
"I know his actions and his personality. I know right away when Cal's feeling good because he's got a lot of energy and he's fun to be around. Sometimes when he gets a little quiet, you know something's bothering him."
Thoughts of Dierker
Miller expressed concern for Houston Astros manager Larry Dierker, who collapsed in the dugout Sunday. "It's scary," Miller said. "Hopefully, he just got a warning and he'll be fine."
The incident reminded Miller of the importance of monitoring his own health, which is difficult during a 162-game season.
"There's a lot of stress, trying to make sure you've got everything covered," he said. "You find yourself in a hotel room wanting to sleep, but you can't, and getting up and thinking about lineups. Every once in a while you think, `If I dropped up here, nobody would see me until the next afternoon.' That worries you."
Last night's best play came in the sixth inning when Ripken laid out to his left, stopped a one-hop smash by Chad Kreuter, and threw from his knees to begin an inning-ending 5-4-3 double play.
Given several standing ovations in Atlanta during Sunday night's six-hit performance, he left the field to a similar reception last night.
Draft of fresh air
While still sitting on their $1.7 million agreement with first-round pick Michael Paradis, the Orioles released their first wave of draft signings yesterday, topped by their third-round selection, Ball State catcher Jonathan Kessick. A resident of Hudson, Ohio, Kessick was the Orioles' eighth pick and the 104th player drafted overall.