After giving up a game-losing home run to Cal Ripken Friday night, Minnesota pitcher Curt Wardle probably spoke for pitchers throughout the American League when he said: "Hey, what are you gonna do against that guy when he gets hot? Fast ball, breaking pitches, up, down. When he gets hot, what can you do?"
Right now, Baltimore's Ripken is the hottest hitter in the game, having boosted his batting average from .270 to .337 in three games. On the heels of a three-day performance in Minnesota -- 10 hits in 15 at-bats, including eight runs batted in, three doubles and two home runs -- Ripken was named the American League's player of the week today.
Perhaps the best thing Kansas City pitchers can hope for is that today's open date will cool off Ripken before the Royals and first-place Orioles begin a two-game series here Tuesday night.
Last week was an eventful one for Ripken, the Orioles' all-star shortstop. Besides the hitting spree, Ripken played in his 464th consecutive game on Saturday, breaking Brooks Robinson's club mark.
The season is just 23 games old, but it's already become obvious that Ripken has a chance at an even bigger record. Last October, he became the first player in 43 years to complete two straight seasons of playing every inning.
No player has played every inning in every game over three seasons since Buck Freeman and Candy LaChance accomplished the feat from 1902-04. Ripken had a small scare in the second game this season when he sprained his left ankle sliding back into second base on a pickoff play. But the Orioles had the next day off and Ripken returned to continue his streak.
Not much about April was good for Ripken. He had only four hits in his first 24 at bats (.167 average). "Starting the season, my timing just wasn't right," Ripken said Sunday night. "I would swing good one day, then not so good the next two days. And when I did hit it hard, they (the fielders) made the plays."
Ripken said he felt his batting stroke coming around on May 1, in the second game of a series with Chicago. In his last six at bats against the White Sox, Ripken had three hits, including a homer, and drove in three runs.
Then came the three-game series at Minnesota, where it was nearly impossible for fielders to make plays on Ripken. Not one of his 10 hits was cheap, and two of his five hits on Sunday came against John Butcher, an old nemesis. "I've never had any stats to mention on him," Ripken said.
"There's really no way to feel this coming on," he said. "I'm not this streaky a hitter, to be honest about it. I don't have bad slumps and I don't have great streaks. I started swinging well before Minnesota and it just carried through."
Twins Manager Billy Gardner obviously felt sorry for his pitchers. "When Ripken's hot, he hits everything," he said.
Baltimore Manager Joe Altobelli just smiled at the thought and said, "Some kind of groove, huh? I hope it lasts for a while."
The Orioles took today off, with no workout. "We've been on the field a lot," Altobelli said. "We've had enough exhibitions (three). And sometimes I feel that staying away from the park is as important as being there." . . . Catcher Joe Nolan, who started Sunday in place of Rick Dempsey, had a single, double and two RBI in his first two at bats. "Joe needs those at bats to be the quality pinch hitter we'll need this year," Altobelli said.