Ripken pushes back, pulls closer


Pleased third baseman to go all-out in test today

return possible tomorrow

August 30, 1999|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

DETROIT -- Third baseman Cal Ripken could be activated from the disabled list as early as tomorrow if he receives positive feedback from an intense workout he will put himself through today at his Reisterstown home.

Ripken, disabled with nerve irritation in his lower back since Aug. 1, took an extended round of batting practice and infield before yesterday's 11-4 win over the Detroit Tigers. The results were overwhelmingly positive, Ripken said.

"It felt good. I pushed it a little more today and was pleased with how it went," said Ripken, sidelined for the past 27 games since experiencing a return of back spasms while eating breakfast Aug. 1 in Seattle.

Ripken, like the rest of the Orioles, was making his final appearance at Tiger Stadium. And for the third consecutive day, he carried the lineup card to home plate. The idea was suggested by Detroit Free Press national baseball writer John Lowe, who noted that two days after concluding a homestand at Yankee Stadium, Lou Gehrig ended his consecutive-games streak at Tiger Stadium in 1939. On that day, Gehrig carried the lineup card to the plate.

Ripken, embarrassed at undue attention while unable to contribute to his team, agreed to the idea only after plans to turn the moment into something larger were scrapped.

For Ripken, the most significant moments of the weekend came before yesterday's game when he was able to backhand fungoes. The move is among the most demanding he makes in the field.

A spirited batting practice included his launching several balls into the upper deck. One towering shot barely missed the roof.

Instead of taking his final swing, Ripken dropped his bat in mock celebration and stepped from the cage.

"I'm looking forward to playing again," said Ripken, whose season has been frozen at 15 home runs and 47 RBIs, along with two team-high statistics among regulars: a .591 slugging average and .335 batting average. His pursuit of 400 home runs and 3,000 hits has also been suspended for most of the month. Until Ripken returned to the disabled list for the second time this season, his pace projected him reaching 3,000 hits at Tiger Stadium last weekend. "I just need to be comfortable physically and mentally. That's what I hope to find out [today]."

Manager Ray Miller said Saturday that even when the 39-year-old Ripken returns, he will not play day games after night games. Should Ripken return tomorrow, he will have 32 games to amass the 32 hits he needs to become the 23rd member of the 3,000-hit club.

During Ripken's most recent absence, the Orioles are 11-16. When he was disabled April 18, the Orioles were 9-14 until his return May 14.

Mussina out another start

Still sore a week after taking a line drive to the back of his right shoulder, Mike Mussina abstained from throwing from a bullpen mound yesterday, assuring that Doug Johns will make a second start in his place Wednesday.

"If I couldn't throw today, there's absolutely no way I'll be able to pitch on Wednesday," Mussina said. "There's just no way, so go ahead and write somebody else's name on the start."

Mussina participated in outfield soft-toss but has yet to climb a mound since being struck by Chicago White Sox catcher Brook Fordyce's line drive in the third inning Aug. 22. Though swelling and discoloration have eased in the shoulder, Mussina says he still experiences discomfort.

"It didn't just hit muscle," Mussina said. "It hit tendons and bone and other stuff. It's certainly not worth risking something long-term to try to rush it back."

Mussina may have as many as six remaining starts should he be able to take his turn Sept. 6 against the Cleveland Indians. He stands at 15-7 with only a sliver of hope for the first 20-win season of his nine-year major-league career. His proximity to the milestone contributed to the club's decision to refrain from immediately placing him on the disabled list.

Kamieniecki takes ball

It never occurred to Michigan native Scott Kamieniecki that pitching yesterday's ninth inning carried historical significance. Kamieniecki's appearance was the last by an Oriole in the 87-year-old facility, which will be evacuated for Comerica Park next season.

"I probably felt more coming here as a fan than I have as a visiting player," said Kamieniecki, who was born in Mount Clemens, attended the University of Michigan and resides in Flint. "It was a great stadium. I have a lot of memories. It was a neat thing to come here as a kid and come through the turnstiles. The crowds we had this weekend [37,600, 42,377 and 37,911] were great. But as a player, you look at the facilities they have here and the field itself. It could use upgrading to the standards baseball has set everywhere else."

Immersed in his task, Kamieniecki pitched a scoreless ninth and did not make an association with history until Miller suggested he hold onto the ball.

"I told him it was the last pitch thrown by an Oriole in this stadium," Miller said.

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