`Why Not?' year opens with bang as O's rebound

The Ripken Years: 1989

September 18, 2001|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

The healing began with one swing. Cal Ripken's bat met a Roger Clemens fastball, and more than a two-run deficit disappeared.

So did the possibility of repeating the previous season's horror.

The Orioles didn't wait until the 22nd game to post their first win in 1989. They got it out of the way on Opening Day, with Ripken's three-run homer sparking a 5-4, 11-inning victory over the Boston Red Sox at Memorial Stadium.

Not all could be forgotten or forgiven. A 107-loss season, his father's firing as manager, the off-season trade of Eddie Murray. But Ripken's blast, which gave the Orioles a 4-3 lead in the sixth inning, signaled a change for the better.

The Orioles emerged as surprise contenders under Frank Robinson, challenging the Toronto Blue Jays until the final weekend in a worst-to-first bid that few could have imagined possible after last season. Ripken did his part to keep the feel-good story alive, again leading major-league shortstops in home runs (21) and RBIs (93) and committing only eight errors - 13 fewer than the previous year. A cast of rookies and no-names, Ripken being the prominent exception, had Orioles fans asking, "Why Not?"

Ripken put together a 47-game errorless streak that at the time was the longest of his career. He led major-league shortstops in putouts (276), assists (531), total chances (815) and double plays (119). He became the first shortstop to hit at least 20 homers in eight straight seasons.

On the Orioles, only Mickey Tettleton had more homers - his wife revealed that the source of the catcher's increased power was a daily breakfast of Froot Loops cereal - but nobody had more RBIs, hits (166) or doubles (30) than Ripken. Opposing pitchers were toast.

Without Murray to share the Most Valuable Oriole award, Ripken settled for second behind closer Gregg Olson. He won the first Bart Giamatti Caring Award presented by the Baseball Alumni Team.

Ripken also became the first Oriole to make six consecutive starts in the All-Star Game. He hit a double off Montreal's Tim Burke.

It wasn't all good for Ripken. His .257 average was 20 points below his career mark at the time. He went 40 games between home runs over the season's first two months, and batted .198 in September and October. But with one swing, against a pitcher who would collect Cy Young Awards like stamps or rare coins, Ripken made a statement that hung over the league until the last few days.



1989.162...646...80...166...30.....0......21....93.... .257

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