IN BASEBALL, getting four hits in four at bats is remarkable. Five for five is extraordinary, and six for six is practically unheard of. It happened Sunday night with Cal Ripken Jr., who at age 38 is in what ought to be his baseball dotage. True, his fellow Orioles were on an unprecedented tear, punching up 22 runs, but even so Mr. Ripken stood out, with two home runs, a double and three singles. The crowd in Atlanta rose to cheer the fifth hit, and those who remained to the end hailed the sixth as well. Mr. Ripken is one of the few athletes in any game who get standing ovations from the other team's fans.

But if you've lived in this region and been following the Baltimore Orioles during the past 17 years, you may have gotten a little tired of hearing about him by now. If so, don't blame us. Ask Mr. Ripken why he's not winding down. Last year he ended his astonishing string of consecutive games at 2,632. In the spring he lost his father -- the man who brought him up for the game and even managed him -- to cancer. Then, as his back gave him increasing trouble, he went on the disabled list for the first time. The shadows lengthened.

So ask Mr. Ripken what's going on now. Why, after coming back on active duty, did he keep on fiddling around with his batting technique; isn't there a point at which you've got this game figured out, and acknowledged to yourself you're not going to get better? Why did he seek the advice of the Orioles' batting coach, Terry Crowley? Longtime Orioles fans remember Mr. Crowley as a premier pinch hitter, but he's not a Hall-of-Famer like Cal Ripken. And now what exactly does this 38-year-old infielder with a bad back think he's doing, coming off the disabled list, hitting .367 in his next 109 times at bat, and grinning like a balding, gray-haired kid on the base paths as he goes six for six? How old does he think he is, anyway?