Win brings Ripken to last road stop

Glove stops Yanks, 7-2

words harder to grasp

September 30, 2001|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

NEW YORK -- Two weeks ago they searched for meaning in a lost season. Yesterday, the Orioles scraped together another helping in a 7-2 win over the New York Yankees before 55,310 at Yankee Stadium. Today, they'll witness something many of them will carry for a lifetime.

Cal Ripken intended to awake this morning, maybe dress himself in black, then search for the words to share with those who will watch the last road game of his magnificent career.

He will pen them as notes in his own hand on a piece of paper Cooperstown will covet. And at about 12:30 p.m, the Iron Man will make the most difficult speech of his life but only his second toughest of the next week.

"It's getting tougher as it goes along," Ripken said. "I wouldn't say it's wearing on me, but you get all worked up and try to bring your focus back down."

Ripken played a supporting role yesterday in a win built on Calvin Maduro's solid 7 2/3 innings, a six-run second inning aided by Yankees starter Orlando Hernandez's injury-related control problems and a bases-empty home run by the Orioles' streaking shortstop, Tony Batista.

Ripken, admittedly affected by the emotion closing upon him, was hitless in four at-bats to fall into a 2-for-22 skid. However, his diving stop of Yankees catcher Todd Greene's fifth-inning grounder started a double-play turn to second baseman Jerry Hairston that kept the three-time defending world champions from ever threatening Maduro (5-6).

"I thought off the bat it was a base hit," Maduro said. "When I saw Ripken dive and Jerry make the turn, I said, `Wow.' "

"It turns out if it gets through, it's possibly a bigger inning that could change the complexion of the game," assessed Ripken, who had appeared ill at ease at third base Friday night and had an error there yesterday.

"We were able to stay 7-1 at the time and it turned out to be a big play. ... It was a nice double play and a good time for it."

The Orioles need only one more win to avoid the possibility of a 100-loss season. They have rallied for seven wins in their past 10 games as the poignant moment of the season approaches next Saturday at Camden Yards.

Ripken equates what he is experiencing to a player's first trip to the postseason. Harnessing emotions in order to maintain performance becomes more difficult. Ripken has been at his best when he knew all eyes were on him. But these circumstances have no precedent.

"It's not nervousness so much. It's probably what people go through when they get to the playoffs for the first time or the World Series for the first time," he said. "The excitement level goes up. The key is to contain it and to control it.

"It's not nervousness. I'm trained to do it. But it's difficult enough hitting the ball. If you can't contain your excitement and your energy, your timing is disturbed. There's more of a sense of urgency than before. You know your at-bats are limited, your games are limited. There's a certain urgency to do well. It's your last chance. Earlier, there wasn't that urgency."

Ripken can count his remaining road plate appearances on one oddly nervous hand.

He has felt a rise in the emotional intensity that has greeted him this past week and struggled to maintain his renowned single-mindedness.

While the Orioles used five walks and two hits to construct a six-run second inning, Ripken may have found his mind drifting to today. He is a public player, not a public speaker, and before leaving his hotel this morning he'll likely discuss his thinking with publicist John Maroon before taking the last limousine ride of his playing career and slipping into baseball's most hallowed place.

"There are a few things that come to mind right away," he said. "I'll try to organize my thoughts."

Last Thursday's farewell to Fenway Park offered a more moving experience than any of Ripken's previous 10 farewell stops. The pull of these old, historic stadiums has stirred something in a man increasingly attuned to history in recent years.

This afternoon, Ripken will step onto an emerald platform ringed by an aura unmatched anywhere within the sport. Images of a frail Babe Ruth saying his goodbyes while supported by a bat and Mickey Mantle waving while being driven around the warning track are indelible.

None, of course, is more unforgettable than the snapshot of the man whom Ripken chased, Lou Gehrig, standing stricken behind a microphone to call himself "the luckiest man on the face of the Earth." Ripken knows the moment will be as powerful as it is inevitable.

"I don't train for that. I've never tried to be any more than what I am. I've not been able to articulate some points fairly well," Ripken said quietly. "That's more nerve-racking" than playing.

He knows there is little time left for either.

Orioles today

Opponent: New York Yankees

Site: Yankee Stadium, New York

Time: 1:05 p.m.

TV/Radio: Ch. 54/WBAL (1090 AM)

Starters: Orioles' Jose Mercedes (8-17, 6.04) vs. Yankees' Roger Clemens (20-2, 3.48)

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