Ripken's back sore, so he sits out opener

Plane ride tightens area hurt by dive last week

he plans quick return

September 04, 2001|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

OAKLAND, Calif. - A recent slump, three weekend games as the Orioles' designated hitter and an irregular day off after a cross-country flight hinted at what Cal Ripken yesterday confirmed: his surgically repaired lower back is again smarting.

After starting 24 of the past 27 games, Ripken asked manager Mike Hargrove to delete him from last night's lineup against the Oakland Athletics due to persistent stiffness in the same region that abbreviated his previous two seasons. It marked the first time Ripken failed to start the first game of a road series since announcing his retirement June 19.

"His back's bothering him. The plane ride didn't help. So he asked for the day off," Hargrove said after giving Tony Batista his fourth consecutive start at third base.

Though confident he will return to tonight's lineup, Ripken allowed that the back has been bothering him since diving after a ball during the just-completed homestand. It is the first time this season that pain or stiffness has prevented Ripken from playing.

"I would hate to try to push through it and blow out with three weeks left in the season," Ripken said before last night's 4-2 loss.

"I'd like to get there healthy."

Ripken remembered hyperextending the back when diving after a smash by A's outfielder Johnny Damon during Thursday's eighth inning.

Hargrove also noted that Ripken has been dealing with a sore right shoulder, which explained his unprecedented run of consecutive starts as designated hitter.

Ripken emphasized the condition is not nearly as severe as those bouts that forced him to the disabled list for large chunks of the past two seasons, and to back surgery in 1999. "I still have my movement. I can move around," he said, adding, "I expect to play [today] and the next day."

Since raising his average to a season-high .276, Ripken has endured a hitless three-game series at home against the A's and gone 8-for-45 (.178) without an extra-base hit since Aug. 19. Ripken's 12th and last home run came Aug. 15 during a stretch in which he homered three times in six starts.

Used recently as Hargrove's fifth-place hitter, Ripken is batting .323 with 12 home runs and 33 RBIs in 52 games since his retirement announcement.

Ripken's playing itinerary on the road since announcing his plan to retire has consistently had him in the lineup for at least the first and last game of each series. His absence from the lineup has just as consistently brought down fans' ire upon Hargrove in visiting ballparks.

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