Mates marvel, too, as Ripken exit nears

ORIOLES NOTEBOOK

Playing through sentiment draws raves for Iron Man

Mills: 1st outing since Aug.

Notebook

October 06, 2001|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

Chris Richard remembers standing in the on-deck circle before his first major-league at-bat with St. Louis last season, images flashing in his head of Little League games and after-school gatherings with friends that always included a bat, ball and glove. He let the memories flicker for a few seconds before chasing them away, appreciating the moment but not allowing it to ruin his concentration.

Packing up some belongings yesterday in the Orioles' clubhouse, long strands of tape smoothed across boxes, Richard understood only a fraction of what Cal Ripken has endured each night since announcing his retirement in June. All those distractions, all those sentimental journeys. And all those games Ripken still had to play in a season that finally ends tonight.

Like many of his teammates, Richard marvels at how Ripken rode the waves of emotion without wiping out. He's still amazed by the ovations and curtain calls that awaited Ripken on what used to be enemy turf.

"He gets it a lot at home since I've been here, so it's not anything really new. I don't think I'll have any different feelings at home until [today]," Richard said. "On the road, it's more prevalent. People are booing their own team if they don't throw him a strike. It's really interesting to see that perspective. The respect he's given around the league is incredible. I wasn't expecting all that, but he deserves it. It's just unbelievable."

"I don't know how he's doing it," shortstop Mike Bordick said. "You play every day for almost 20 years, I guess you can withstand any kind of mental test, and this is certainly a mental test.

"Since he announced his retirement, fans across the country embraced it and wanted to show Cal how much they appreciate him. From the first day, things started really getting emotional. And personally, it just keeps getting more emotional. Every time they do a tribute and show pictures of him as a kid, you realize how special of a player and a person he is."

Richard and Bordick will be among the players in both dugouts absorbing tonight's ceremony, with all its tears and sentimental tugs, just like the fans who will pack Camden Yards. Rare occasions do exist when a ballplayer separates himself from the job long enough to appreciate what he's seeing, even through misty eyes.

"Last year I had that experience during his last at-bat of the season," said Richard, who joined the Orioles in late July. "He got a standing ovation while I was in the on-deck circle. That was my first time experiencing something like that. That got to me a little bit, just taking some time to look around and really see what the moment is like.

"I definitely think I'll be taking in the moment [tonight]. It's something you have to do if you love the game."

Mills dusts off arm

The paper clips that manager Mike Hargrove has used to hold together his ailing ballclub are beginning to bend out of shape. The final game has come at the right time, while he still can find nine healthy players for the lineup and a couple for the bench.

Hargrove couldn't complete his lineup for Game 1 of yesterday's doubleheader until checking with Brady Anderson, whose sore left arm kept him on the bench.

"I've never seen a club struggle in September to keep enough bodies available to play with expanded rosters," Hargrove said.

Even his bullpen has become problematic, with left-handers John Parrish (shoulder) and John Bale (forearm) unavailable yesterday. Hargrove dusted off Alan Mills, who hadn't pitched since Aug. 30 and briefly considered retirement before rejoining the club after a two-day excused absence.

Mills had allowed five home runs in his five previous appearances, including a grand slam to Oakland's Eric Chavez, before tossing a scoreless ninth inning yesterday in Game 1. Boston's Lou Merloni singled with two outs, but Mills struck out Jose Offerman.

"What I liked was he was ready to pitch when he came in," Hargrove said. "A lot of guys who have found themselves in Alan's situation, it would have been very difficult for them. But Alan understands what's going on here and kept himself ready. It's a tribute to his character and ability.

"His velocity was the best it's been all year. Of course, he had 35 days to get ready."

Sorry, Barry

Ripken outranks Barry Bonds with commissioner Bud Selig.

At least that's what his travel schedule for this weekend says.

After watching Bonds hit his record-tying 70th homer in Houston on Thursday night, Selig traveled to San Diego for last night's ceremony for retiring Padre Tony Gwynn, then he'll fly to Baltimore.

And if Bonds had waited until tomorrow to break the record instead of hitting two to do it last night, Selig wouldn't have been there either.

Baseball spokesman Pat Courtney said logistics made it impossible for Selig to attend.

"He committed to these events a while ago," Courtney said. " ... It's a day game Sunday in San Francisco. That's a lot of flying."

Around the horn

Melvin Mora, who hasn't batted or played in the field since Sept. 3 because of a sprained ligament in his left elbow, hit off a tee yesterday and is confident he'll be healthy by late December or early January. Mora, used only as a pinch-runner since the injury, tried hitting off a tee in New York but stopped because of the pain. ... Luis Matos has stolen a base in six straight games. ... WBAL Radio (1090 AM) will present "The Iron Man" today from 5 to 6 p.m. and re-air the Ripken special 1 to 2 p.m. tomorrow. ... Gates open at 4 p.m. for tonight's game. ... Making his first major-league start in Game 1, Ryan Kohlmeier allowed four runs and six hits in 4 2/3 innings.

Bloomberg News Service contributed to this article.

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