Keepsake meant to be treasured forever

April 17, 2000|By John Eisenberg

MINNEAPOLIS -- Waiting to bat during a pitching change in the eighth inning Saturday night, shortly after Cal Ripken's 3,000th career hit had touched down, the Orioles' Brady Anderson asked Bruce Froemming, the plate umpire, if he had been on the field when any other player reached 3,000.

"Roberto Clemente, 1972," said Froemming, a longtime National League umpire. "Got it in Pittsburgh. Last hit of his life."

Anderson was impressed. "When you hear people with such vivid memories of something that happened that long ago, you realize you just saw something pretty major," Anderson said yesterday.

Real history. A moment that isn't going to dim with time.

That's the meaning underlying Ripken's milestone, which he reached in the seventh inning of a tie game that the Orioles went on to win, 6-4, at the Metrodome.

In and of itself, the routine single to center off Twins reliever Hector Carrasco wasn't the least bit exceptional. Just another hit.

Yet because of what it meant, no one who saw it is going to forget it.

"I've seen five guys get their 3,000th, and I remember every one," Twins manager Tom Kelly said yesterday. "Rod Carew got a single to left off Frank Viola. Dave Winfield got a hit late in a game that helped us beat Oakland and [Dennis] Eckersley. Hit it between third and short. Sort of a grounder. Paul Molitor hit a triple to right-center in Kansas City. Eddie Murray hit one to right. And now Ripken.

"You remember it because 3,000 hits, man, that's something."

Babe Ruth didn't get there. Neither did Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle or Frank Robinson.

"You have to be real, real good for a real long time," Froemming said in the umpires' dressing room before yesterday's game. "When the inning ended [after the hit] and Ripken came in and passed by the plate, I said, `That's big stuff, big man. Way to go.'

"There was a lot more pizazz in the park this time than there was for Clemente, which is unusual because Ripken was on the road. I just remember the scoreboard flashing `3,000' in Pittsburgh for Clemente. Ripken got a longer ovation. I thought it was real nice the Minnesota fans were pulling for him so hard."

The score was 4-4 with two out and a runner on third when Ripken came to bat needing just one more hit Saturday night. He'd already collected two hits in the game, a single to right in the fourth inning and an infield single in the fifth.

Kelly picked that moment to make a pitching change, removing left-hander Travis Miller for Carrasco.

"I didn't want a left-hander in there throwing a slider down and in, because that's where Cal hits the ball," Kelly said. "It was the right thing to do. That was a real competitive point of the game. There was a lot going on right there about winning and losing the game. Obviously, my No. 1 concern was keeping the game tied and giving us a chance to win later."

Standing in the on-deck circle as Carrasco warmed up, Ripken felt his insides churning.

"That was probably the equivalent of being frozen at the free-throw line during a timeout," said Ripken, a serious basketball fan. "You're ready to go and then you're forced to wait and think about it and control yourself. I've never experienced being frozen at the line, but that was probably it."

Before leaving the mound, Kelly spoke at length with Carrasco and Twins catcher Matthew LeCroy.

"Hector really didn't want to be the guy to give up 3,000," Kelly said. "I told [LeCroy], `Hector is going to be jacked up. He's going to overdo it and throw too hard. Be ready to block the ball.' Then I told Hector, `Let's not overdo it. Let's be a good pitcher. Keep the ball down.' You try to get them prepared. But look what happened. Hector overdid it and [LeCroy] didn't block the ball. Both bad things happened."

Carrasco's first pitch flew past LeCroy and hit the screen, enabling Albert Belle to trot in from third with what wound up being the winning run. Ripken backed away from that play, then got back into the batter's box. Carrasco wound up and threw again.

"The pitch was inside," Froemming said. "Cal basically just fought it off and hit it to center. It wasn't a great pitch to hit. He had a better pitch to hit when he came up in the ninth. He just missed that one, got under it, or he'd have had four hits. But the one he got the record on was tougher than it looked."

Kelly said: "My view, it wasn't the best pitch in the world. The one he got to 2,999 on was a nice pitch. But the other two weren't the best. And when you leave pitches in bad spots, that's what happens."

Having chased 3,000 into the final weeks of last season, before his back gave out and he was forced to wait until 2000, Ripken did everything but click his heels on his way to first.

"It felt like I'd dropped a 20-pound pack off my back," Ripken said yesterday. "There was a tangible feeling of relief. And inside, everything went, like, quiet."

Eerily, the local time was 8: 07 -- a combination of Ripken's uniform number and the number his late father wore as a manager and coach with the Orioles.

"The [3,000 celebrations] that are against you, you don't like to see that," Kelly said. "But for all that Cal has done for so long, I'm glad I got to see it."

Just another single to center.

But this time, so much more.

3,000 in style

Cal Ripken is the ninth player to get three hits or more in the game in which he reached 3,000:

Player Hits Year

Tony Gwynn 4 1999

George Brett 4 1992

Cal Ripken 3 2000

Wade Boggs 3 1999

Paul Molitor 3 1996

Hank Aaron 3 1970

Ty Cobb 3 1921

Tris Speaker 3 1925

Eddie Collins 3 1925

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