Ripken's 3,000 road isn't one-lane street

ORIOLES NOTEBOOK

Milestone away from home OK if it means hits, he says

O's pitching decisions loom

April 12, 2000|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Cal Ripken broke Lou Gehrig's consecutive-games record before an adoring crowd at Camden Yards. He hit his 400th home run at home, too. He would love to reach his final major milestone in Baltimore, but he said yesterday that he'll take career hit No. 3,000 any way -- and anywhere -- he can get it.

He drove hit No. 2,995 into the left-field bleachers at Kauffman Stadium last night, and appears positioned to make history this weekend in Minneapolis, the second stop on the Orioles' first road trip of the season.

It's not the ideal location, but it'll be OK with Ripken if it happens that way.

"Obviously, if things played out perfectly, you'd get it at home," Ripken said yesterday, before going 1-for-5 with an error, "but it's a situation where you aren't going to fudge it. I'm trying to get hits all the time. Wherever they fall, they fall."

Ripken clearly is torn on this. He enjoyed the celebration that took place when he tied and broke Gehrig's record, but he also was happy to put streakmania behind him.

The quest for 3,000 hits has put him in a similar situation, though certainly not of the same magnitude. When Ripken held court for a small crowd of local and national reporters before last night's game, he made it clear that he will be happy when his baseball life gets back to normal.

"I'd rather not have the attention," he said. "I'd like to get things back to a normal routine."

This is typical Ripken. He resisted all attempts to focus on the streak until it could no longer be avoided, then embraced it as the 1995 season counted down to his magic moment. This week, as he counts down to 3,000, the anticipation of the milestone is mixed with the desire to immerse himself in the club's exciting start.

Somebody asked him yesterday where it would rank alongside his other accomplishments. Ripken didn't really have an answer.

"I don't know," he said. "There have been so many good things that have happened to me. It's just another one of those things that happens when you play a long time."

Ripken, who moved to third base after establishing himself as the most prolific power-hitting shortstop in the history of the game, has homered twice in the first seven games of the season. It would be a nice touch to go deep for hit No. 3,000 -- as future Hall of Famer Wade Boggs did last year -- but Ripken said he won't be picky.

"I'd take any kind of hit, just to get on base and get things rolling," he said. "I'll take a jam-job hit or a bad decision from the official scorer anything."

Maduro or Mercedes?

No. 4 and No. 5 starters Calvin Maduro and Jose Mercedes will each make one more start before manager Mike Hargrove has to decide which one will settle into a more regular slot in the rotation.

Mercedes survived a rocky first inning to record the victory over the Detroit Tigers on Sunday. Maduro struggled to get through four innings on Friday night. One of them will have to drop into a long relief role after his next start and both could be on the bubble when Scott Erickson and Jason Johnson rejoin the rotation.

No timetable has been set for Erickson, but Hargrove indicated that the club is getting close to putting together a more concrete schedule for the veteran right-hander's return from elbow surgery.

Riley rocked

Orioles pitching prospect Matt Riley gave up five runs over two innings in his first start of the year for the Triple-A Rochester Red Wings. He apparently is still attempting to right himself after a difficult spring, but Orioles vice president of baseball operations Syd Thrift blamed the rocky appearance on a hostile pitching environment.

"The wind chill up there was 8 degrees," Thrift said. "You can throw that one out. I'm just glad nobody got hurt."

Split success

When Mike Trombley broke into professional baseball in 1989, he included a split-fingered fastball among his three-pitch repertoire. But he put it on the shelf after that season in favor of a changeup taught to him by former teammate Denny Neagle, the Gambrills native who used the pitch to baffle Single-A hitters. Trombley figured he wasn't ready to add a pitch without subtracting another.

It wasn't until 1996, while moving into a closer's role for the Minnesota Twins' Triple-A Salt Lake affiliate, that Trombley brought back the splitter. Now he had four pitches. Now he had put the minors behind him for good.

"I'm not hiding the fact that the split has really helped my career," he said. "It actually made my other pitches better. But it's one of those things where, if you have bad mechanics, you have no chance of throwing a good one."

The pitch doesn't come without some controversy. There are managers and baseball officials who believe the splitter puts too much strain on the arm. The Orioles discourage their younger pitchers from using it in the minors.

"We do have concerns about the pitch," said Thrift. "We did with Sidney [Ponson] in A ball. We felt it put too much stress on the elbow. There's proof of that."

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