3,000 career hits

With Iron Man reaches latest mark, adding new page to scrapbook of 'Glory Days'

April 16, 2000|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

MINNEAPOLIS -- Future Hall of Famer Cal Ripken couldn't hold off until he got home. He collected three singles last night at the Metrodome to become the 23rd player in baseball history to amass 3,000 hits, reaching what figures to be the last major milestone of his amazing career.

Ripken lined a base hit to center field off Minnesota Twins reliever Hector Carrasco in the seventh inning to cap his first multi-hit game of the season and add another page to the fairy-tale life of Baltimore's home-grown baseball hero.

The crowd of 18,745 stood throughout Ripken's fourth at-bat of the game. Carrasco, perhaps a little nervous about his unexpected role in baseball history, threw the first pitch to the backstop, allowing Albert Belle to score from third with an important run in a 6-4 victory. Ripken lined the second pitch cleanly to center and was greeted at first base by coach and fellow 3,000-hit Oriole Eddie Murray.

The rest of the team gathered around Ripken at first base as the crowd sustained a long standing ovation and the public address system struck up Bruce Springsteen's "Glory Days." Ripken was given the ball, which he carried to the stands and flipped to his wife, Kelly, before returning to first base to resume the game.

"It seemed like everything was in slow motion when I hit it," said Ripken, flanked at a post-game news conference by Kelly Ripken and their children, Rachel and Ryan. "Big relief. Big, friendly face at first base. To see Eddie Murray waiting there, that was special."

Murray, who mentored Ripken after he arrived in the major leagues in 1981, also got his 3,000th hit at the Metrodome five years ago.

"He said, `Way to go' and `Welcome to the club,' but it goes deeper than words," Ripken said. "I learned a lot from Eddie about the right approach to the game. I've said before, I learned the game from my father, but Eddie showed me the way."

The suspense built throughout the evening. Ripken grounded out in his first at-bat against Twins starter Sean Bergman, then tagged him with a soft line drive to right field for No. 2,998 in the fourth inning. The countdown continued in the fifth, when Ripken hit a high chopper off home plate and reached first without a throw from third baseman Corey Koskie.

After each hit, the Metrodome crowd gave him an increasingly enthusiastic ovation. The stands were far from full -- perhaps because Ripken needed such a big performance to make his milestone -- but the acoustics of one of the noisiest venues in sports enhanced the crowd reaction.

"It's a great feeling to stand in an opposing ballpark and be welcomed as one of their own," said Ripken, who responded by signing autographs for a half-hour after the game.

"I felt compelled to share some of that with them."

Minnesota baseball fans should be getting used to this by now. Ripken became the third player to get his 3,000th career hit at the Metrodome. Murray reached the milestone here as a member of the Cleveland Indians on June 30, 1995. Outfielder Dave Winfield got his 3,000th as a member of the Twins on Sept. 16, 1993.

No doubt, Orioles fans would have preferred that Ripken had waited until the club returned to Camden Yards for the three-game series against the Tampa Bay Devil Rays that begins tomorrow night, but Ripken said early in the six-game road trip that he wanted to get his latest date with destiny over with as soon as possible.

"Obviously, it would have been as thrilling sensation to do it in Baltimore," Ripken said, "but there also is an obligation to the game.

You can't go out there and not try to get hits. I've been able to celebrate a lot of great things with the hometown folks, but tonight I was just happy to get some hits."

Last night was sooner than anyone could have expected, considering that Ripken had not had more than one hit in a game during the first two weeks of the season and was batting a meager .176. The three-hit performance raised his average to .231.

It took Ripken exactly 2,800 games to get to 3,000 hits, an 18 1/2-year quest that began with a nondescript single off Chicago White Sox pitcher Dennis Lamp on Aug. 16, 1981.

Only four other current uniformed personnel were on the field that day -- Murray, coaches Elrod Hendricks and Terry Crowley, and then-opponent Harold Baines.

"And to think they wanted to make him a catcher," Hendricks said with a laugh last night. "Earl Weaver said, `No way.' He said, `He's going to be a shortstop, and he's going to be in the major leagues a long time.' "

Baines admitted that he didn't remember that first hit in 1981, but he will remember this one, and -- with 2,793 -- might be the 24th player to join one of baseball's most exclusive fraternities.

"To be part of history is very special," Baines said. "To also win the game, that makes it even more special. He has played a long time. He's very deserving."

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