Two down, 1 to go for O's

Ripken emotion builds as Red Sox sweep pair, 5-0, 7-5

`Certain sadness' each night

Games 2,999, 3,000 leave Ripken 2-for-45

he rules out SS tonight

October 06, 2001|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

Cal Ripken has often spoken of his fascination with watching a ballpark come to life. The past two nights he has enjoyed putting it to bed. Tonight he will do the same for his career.

Yesterday the Boston Red Sox extended the less savory details accompanying Ripken's farewell by sweeping a split doubleheader from the Orioles at Camden Yards. That the Orioles managed three singles in an afternoon 5-0 loss or a 10th-inning defeat in last night's 7-5 decision only distracted from an approaching civic and franchise milepost.

"I don't think any of us will cry a whole lot of tears about tomorrow being our last game," manager Mike Hargrove said after Ripken's 2,999th and 3,000th games. "I think we'll probably cry a lot of tears it being Cal's last game."

The sweep completed a day that began with Ripken signing autographs for hundreds of fans until 12:30 a.m. As the final service of his 21-year career, Ripken's extended farewell has provided cover for another fourth-place season that includes an 8-18 September/October.

Given an eighth-inning reprieve by 42-year-old left fielder Tim Raines' two-run homer, the Orioles were beaten in the 10th when Red Sox center fielder Trot Nixon completed a four-RBI day with his second home run of the doubleheader, a 420-foot shot to center field off closer-in-training Willis Roberts (9-10). Starting pitcher Frank Castillo (10-9) pitched six innings to drive the Red Sox's afternoon shutout.

Ripken encountered another moment in last night's 10th inning. With two outs and two on, he drove a fly ball to center field against Red Sox reliever Rich Garces, this time for the last out.

The past several weeks have increasingly pitted Ripken against the emotions that tug at him. He said he handled them well until arriving in New York last weekend. There, Ripken said, "I really felt I lost control for a lot of reasons." His swing deteriorated as he attempted to overpower pitches. Returning home allowed him to collect his feelings, though he still struggles at times to contain them.

Ripken said he experiences "a certain sadness" each night when a video is shown of him appearing from behind his late father, Cal Sr., whose image steps from focus.

"I've often wondered during this process how I was going to get to this point, whether I could get to the finish line, because it does play with your emotions," Ripken said. "It does pull at your heart a little bit."

Last night's crowd greeted each of Ripken's at-bats with raised orange signs reading, "Thanks Cal!" along with a standing ovation. Beforehand, Ripken served as honorary catcher for his children, Rachel and Ryan, who threw out the first pitch. Ripken also thanked five longtime employees by presenting them framed No. 8 jerseys, each bearing a personal inscription.

Ripken went 1-for-9 in the doubleheader, leaving him in a 2-for-45 rut as he approaches the end point of a his career. But he also left a sellout crowd of 47,927 with the lasting image of a barehanded grab-and-throw of a ninth-inning slow roller.

This much is also certain: Ripken will end his career as he began it. As a third baseman.

In recent weeks, Hargrove repeatedly answered media queries about Ripken re-appearing for at least one inning at the position he defined. Yesterday, he acted on the possibility, calling Ripken into his office to address the notion of him playing some shortstop tonight.

"He didn't ask for permission or if it was a good idea or say that it was what he wanted to do. He gave me respect enough to say, `What do you think about it?' " Ripken said. His answer was governed by reason and a rigid respect rather than emotion.

"I've been taking ground balls at third. I've been playing third. There's a point in your career when that is what you do, and I think by changing that you hurt the game," he said.

Ripken initially resisted then embraced his impromptu move from third base to shortstop in the first inning of the July 10 All-Star Game. It became one of the game's two signature moments, both scripted by the Iron Man in a festival that named him its Most Valuable Player.

True to character, Ripken sees tonight as something different.

While he has intended his farewell to serve as a celebration of the game, Ripken believes reverting to shortstop for the first time in five years would threaten the contest's integrity. Regardless of its relevance to the standings, Ripken's creed holds that the game should stand above all.

"The only reason it's significant is because it's the last game I'm playing in, but it doesn't change how you should go about playing the game," Ripken said almost as if he were preparing to change a tire. "The All-Star Game is one you play to win, but it's an exhibition game of sorts. It is a celebration of the game of baseball ... In that environment it was OK because that's a celebration of baseball and a celebration of the players. My opinion is just what I said. I'd rather play third."

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