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With Timeless Grace, Ripken Becomes a Legend

By Mark Maske
Washington Post Staff Writer
September 7, 1996

BALTIMORE, SEPT. 6 -- Now Cal Ripken stands alone.

The Baltimore Orioles' nonstop shortstop became the greatest iron man in baseball history tonight. Ripken played in his 2,131st consecutive game -- breaking Lou Gehrig's 56-year-old record that once seemed unassailable -- as the Orioles beat the California Angels, 4-2, before a sellout crowd of 46,272 on an unforgettably emotional evening at Oriole Park at Camden Yards.

During a postgame ceremony in which he was showered with gifts -- including a 2,131-pound rock for his yard from his teammates, and a truck from Orioles majority owner Peter Angelos -- Ripken singled out his parents, his wife and former teammate Eddie Murray for praise.

Later, during his postgame news conference, Ripken said: "There was some sense of relief for me {Tuesday, when he tied Gehrig's record}. There was more nervousness today. . . . I had a need to celebrate this with the people who are closest to me -- my family. The last two days were very personal to me. I really wanted to share them with my family."

Ripken promised to read a book about Gehrig and watch "Pride of the Yankees" soon, but he gave no hint that The Streak will end in the near future. "As long as I feel I can contribute to the team, I'm going to approach it the same way," said Ripken, whose streak began on May 30, 1982.

Ripken officially became a baseball legend, and he did so with his usual style. Just as he'd done Tuesday in consecutive game No. 2,130, Ripken hit a home run. This time, he yanked a 3-0 pitch from Angels starting pitcher Shawn Boskie over the left field fence in the fourth inning for one of the Orioles' four bases-empty homers.

"I gave him a great gift," Boskie said. "I gave him the best gift he could get. It was three balls and no strikes. I felt like I had no outs. I didn't want to walk a guy and get things started that way. At the same time, I felt like he might be swinging, but I felt like, Hey, I've got to take a chance of him popping it up or hitting a grounder. But he didn't, so . . . Cal Ripken Day."

President Clinton joined in for one of the evening's many boisterous ovations for Ripken. The biggest outpouring of emotion came when the game became official at 9:20 p.m. And the crowd wouldn't stop cheering for 22 minutes 15 seconds.

The remarkable and moving show of affection began even before Orioles second baseman Manny Alexander caught Damion Easley's popup in short right field to end the top of the fifth inning with the Orioles leading, 3-1. The cheering began with the ball still in the air.

The members of the Orioles' bullpen jogged in from left field. It was flashed on the center field video screen that the game had become official, and the music began blaring. The crowd's roar became deafening when the huge, illuminated numbers hanging on the B&O Warehouse beyond the right field wall were flipped to "2131." Sparklers were lit on the roof of Camden Yards. Fireworks were set off.

Ripken alternated between sitting in the Orioles' dugout and being shoved onto the field by teammates to take curtain calls, eight of them in all. He walked over to the seat behind home plate where his wife, Kelly, and his children -- 5-year-old Rachel and 2-year-old Ryan, who had thrown the night's ceremonial first pitches to their father -- were seated, with Ripken's brother (and former Orioles second baseman) Bill nearby.

He looked toward the box high above the field from which his father, Cal Ripken Sr., was watching the game, and he gave the thumbs-up sign. Even Ripken Sr., the grizzled old baseball man, seemingly was on the verge of tears.

But the best was still to come. Cal Jr. attempted to seek the refuge of the Orioles' dugout, but his teammates wouldn't let him stay there. They pushed him back onto the field for a victory lap. Ripken walked all the way around the field on the warning track.

Ripken later called his walk around the ballpark "intimate" and "very spontaneous," and he credited teammates Rafael Palmeiro and Bobby Bonilla with the idea. "They said, We'll never get this game started unless you run around the field,' " Ripken said. "I said I didn't have the energy to make it. They said, You can walk.' . . . Seeing the enthusiasm up close was very meaningful."

He shook hands with fans, police officers, grounds crew members and field attendants. He stopped in left-center field to touch hands with Elrod Hendricks, the Orioles' bullpen coach who has seen every game of The Streak. He shook hands with the Angels players and coaches who were lined up in front of their dugout on the third base side. He ended up back with his family, then returned to the Orioles' dugout. The crowd called him out one more time.

The electricity returned in the bottom of the fifth inning, when Ripken came to bat with two outs and the bases loaded. There was no more magic, however, as Ripken's soft liner was caught going away by California second baseman Rex Hudler -- a former Oriole who is one of the 30 men to have been Ripken's double-play partner during The Streak.

As for the game, the Orioles (57-65) got a solid pitching performance from Mike Mussina and closed out this homestand with two consecutive wins and a 3-6 record. Palmeiro smacked a first-inning home run off Boskie (6-4), and added another in the seventh against reliever Bob Patterson. Bonilla preceded Ripken's homer in the fourth with one of his own. The Orioles' four home runs gave them 10, all with the bases empty, over a two-day span.

Mussina became the American League's first 16-game winner this year with a 7 2/3-inning, five-hit, two-run performance. The crowd booed Manager Phil Regan for removing Mussina (16-8) from the game in the eighth, but the right-hander had thrown 140 pitches. The AL West-leading Angels (68-55) limped home after a 1-8 East Coast road trip on the heels of a 3-8 homestand.

Ripken added an eighth-inning single off Mike James in his 2-for-4 night. He has surpassed Gehrig with a hitting flourish. He has home runs in three games in a row -- a first for him since 1991, when he won his second AL most valuable player award.

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© 1995 The Washington Post Company