Ripken's road finale hits bump in N.Y.

O's, Yankees tie, 1-1, in 15, complicate postseason seedings

October 01, 2001|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

NEW YORK - What was supposed to serve as an emotional touchstone for third baseman Cal Ripken yesterday at Yankee Stadium instead became the latest twist in a bizarre season seemingly without end.

A day that began with a pre-game ceremony marking the final road game of Ripken's career evolved into a 15-inning, 1-1 tie between the Orioles and New York Yankees. The odyssey required 5 hours, 1 minute to decide nothing and complicate everything, including American League postseason seedings and the certainty of Ripken's final game.

The game was ruled an official tie when it was called after a 45-minute rain delay. All statistics count, but the game's outcome does not affect standings.

Ripken spoke before and after yesterday's deadlock about the emotional tug exerted by his approaching retirement and his final appearance on the sport's most hallowed stage. When suggestions of a possible makeup game were spread by Yankees officials, Ripken was among those stunned by the twist.

"Whatever happens happens," Ripken said after leaving the stadium. "We'll have to wait and see."

If necessary, yesterday's game would be replayed in its entirety.

Because the Yankees failed to make up an earlier rainout against the Boston Red Sox because of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks that also caused a six-day postponement of the major-league schedule, last night's tie means they will finish the season having played two fewer games than the Cleveland Indians. If the Yankees finish with one fewer or the same number of losses as the Indians, they could face a situation in which they must play two games next Monday - the first game against the Red Sox and the second, if necessary, against the Orioles - to determine which club plays the AL West champion Seattle Mariners and which plays the wild-card Oakland Athletics.

"If we could finish with more losses than Cleveland, we could make them up," Yankees manager Joe Torre said.

The Yankees are 91-62; the Indians are 89-66. Since they own the tiebreaker with Cleveland based on head-to-head record, the Yankees can silence the issue by finishing 5-2 or better.

Yesterday was to serve as Ripken's final game, according to Major League Baseball's original schedule. However, the postponement of seven games moved Ripken's farewell to next Saturday at Camden Yards against the Red Sox.

Now there exists the possibility, though remote, of the Orioles' season-ender being pushed back a second time, but this time to a road venue.

"If we have to, we'll play the game," said Orioles manager Mike Hargrove, who considered yesterday interminable even before learning of the potential complication caused by the tie. "On Feb. 15, it'll have to be over because that's when we start [spring training] up again."

The Yankees took a 1-0 lead when center fielder Bernie Williams reached Orioles starting pitcher Jose Mercedes for a two-out home run in the fourth inning. Designated hitter Chris Richard answered when he led off the sixth inning against Roger Clemens with a home run that defied blustery conditions to reach the right-field upper deck.

From there, pitching suffocated a waterlogged game. Thirteen pitchers appeared, striking out 32 hitters. Clemens needed 124 pitches to get through six innings before six relievers allowed only four hits over the next nine innings. The Orioles' bullpen was just as solid, as John Wasdin struck out six consecutive hitters, rookie Jorge Julio covered two innings and Ryan Kohlmeier held the Yankees for the final four innings while striking out five. The Yankees finished 5-for-48.

Ripken endured an 0-for-7 performance that included four strikeouts yesterday, leaving him hitless in 14 at-bats for the series and dragging his batting average to .249. He admitted finding it difficult to sleep Saturday night.

"Physically, when you get motivated and energized and your emotions go up, at some point they have to come down," Ripken said. "I've been pretty good during my career at keeping the engine running pretty level. I think that was the key of being an everyday player. This year, the graph has been more [inconsistent]. It does take a little toll on you physically.

"I'm sure I could use about two weeks of sleep right now. But I'll have plenty of time for sleep in about a week or so."

Ripken nearly turned the game in the second inning when he crushed a leadoff drive to the deepest part of the park. But Williams, a Gold Glove center fielder, made a dazzling extended catch while running away from the plate to deny Ripken at least a double. Williams later joked he made the spectacular catch because Ripken omitted him from his pre-game speech.

On a raw, threatening day before a slow-filling stadium, the pre-game ceremony had a corporate feel as executives from several companies presented Ripken and his wife, Kelly, with gifts.

When it was his time to speak, Ripken spoke haltingly at times. He listed numerous Yankees heroes while reflecting on his Bronx experiences. Ripken completed his list by reflecting on the 1996 American League Championship Series, "and, of course, Jeffrey Maier out there in the right-field seats."

Ripken countdown

Total games remaining (all at home) -- 7

HIghlight: In 18 All-Star games, 14 at shortstop and four at third base, Ripken never committed an error.

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