In what has become an annual September tradition at Oriole Park at Camden Yards, tonight's Baltimore Orioles game was interrupted briefly for a transcendent Cal Ripken Moment. The occasion tonight was the 400th home run of Ripken's career, but like 2,131 and 2,632 in Septembers past, this moment was about more than numbers.

Ripken's 400th, which came 38 days and one trip to the disabled list after his 399th, was an authoritative blast to left field in the third inning of the Orioles' 11-6 victory over the Tampa Bay Devil Rays.

It came on a 1-1 pitch from starter Rolando Arrojo and traveled 372 feet. The only question was whether it would stay fair. As the crowd of 39,172 rose to its feet, the ball soared past the foul pole, fair by about 10 feet.

Admitting he was still unsure of the meaning of this milestone, Ripken said, "The biggest goal is to play to your capabilities. That's what I've been trying to do. It's been fulfilling to this point. These little celebrations help you get through a season that has been difficult at times."

No. 400 -- like Nos. 100, 200 and 300 -- was a three-run homer. It also capped the Orioles' five-run third inning and completed an unceremonious knockout of Arrojo. The Orioles' offense, which had averaged 4.3 runs per game in its last 19 games, broke loose for 13 hits to back starter Scott Erickson (11-11). Jeff Conine went 3 for 4 with a double and three runs batted in.

Ripken, 39, became the 29th player in baseball history to reach 400 homer. As orange and black streamers fell from above, the scoreboard flashed a giant "400," and the Jumbotron scrolled a list of all 400 of Ripken's home runs, with the number, the date and the pitcher -- beginning with No. 1, on April 5, 1982 against Kansas City's Dennis Leonard.

"If you had asked me 17 years ago if I thought I had a chance to hit 400 homers," Ripken said, "I would have said, `I hope, but I don't know.' . . . There's a certain honor to playing baseball, and you try to stay within that. But inside, you're going a million miles per second."

Ripken's teammates swarmed him in the dugout as he walked off the field, and he immediately popped back out for a curtain call. As Ripken sat on the bench while the Devil Rays made a pitching change, the fans remained on their feet, cheering, until finally Ripken emerged for a second curtain call.

Moments such as tonight's "are very special," he said. "They're examples of how the game on the field meshes with the people who watch it. When these things happen, it's a magical moment. If you've ever taken a curtain call, you know what I mean."

While taking his second curtain call, Ripken spotted his mother, Vi, in a skybox and pointed to her. He also admitted to thinking about his father. "My dad is in my thoughts every time I come to the park," he said.

The historic homer came in just Ripken's second game since coming off the disabled list for the second time this season. A back injury has forced him to miss 54 games this season, a difficult ordeal for baseball's Iron Man, whose record streak of 2,632 consecutive games played came to a memorable end last September.

But it also added an historic exclamation point to a comeback that began in April, when Ripken's season was nearly derailed before it could began. Already dealing with the passing of his father Cal Sr. in March, Ripken went on the disabled list for the first time in his career on April 20, two weeks into the season.

At the time, Ripken was hitting .179 with five errors, and there was widespread speculation that he might retire. But the following five months have proven that Ripken, when healthy, is far from finished.

In between his two stints on the disabled list, Ripken has enjoyed perhaps the finest offensive season of his career. He was hitting a career-high .331 entering tonight's game, and the third-inning homer was his 16th of the season in 274 at-bats, the best home run ratio of his career.

"I wish the situation with my back hadn't occurred," he said. "But the fact is, I've had to deal with it. The first time, there was a lot of uncertainty. To have it reoccur is frustrating, disappointing. But I'm ecstatic I was able to come back."

Ripken's milestone chase is not over. Tonight's homer was also the 2,969th hit of his career, leaving him 31 shy of 3,000 with 29 games to play after tonight.

"I'm just relieved," he said, "that this one is over."

Orioles Notes: The Orioles announced tonight they will call up left-hander Matt Riley, widely considered the organization's top prospect. Riley, 20, will make his scheduled start Saturday for Class AA Bowie, join the Orioles on Sunday in Baltimore, and make his major league debut Sept. 9 in Minnesota. . . .

Brady Anderson was scratched from the lineup and replaced in left field by Derrick May because of a sore shoulder, which Miller said occurred when Anderson dove for a line drive on Wednesday in his first game in left in almost four years. . . .

Pitcher Mike Mussina said today his bruised right shoulder still has not improved enough for him to throw off a mound, and he would not speculate on his return to the rotation. . . . Second baseman Delino DeShields suffered "lower abdominal discomfort" while trying to make a diving catch in the sixth inning tonight, and had to leave the game. . . .

Right-hander Mike Fetters gave up two runs on four hits in the ninth inning tonight in his first appearance since June 7, when he went on the disabled list with a strained right elbow. He had surgery to remove bone chips on June 22.

Cal Ripken's Home Run Timeline

1

April 5, 1982

vs. Kansas City

Pitcher: Dennis Leonard

2nd inning, 1 runner on base

100

August 15, 1985

vs. Texas

Pitcher: Dickie Noles

2nd inning, 2 runners on base

200

August 21, 1989

vs. Milwaukee

Pitcher: Mark Knudson

5th inning, 2 runners on base

300

May 24, 1994

vs. Milwaukee

Pitcher: Teddy Higuera

2nd inning, 2 runners on base

400

Sept. 2, 1999

vs. Tampa Bay

Pitcher: Rolando Arrojo

3rd inning, 2 runners on base

ACTIVE HOME RUN LEADERS

Career totals through last night's games:

Mark McGwire 509

Barry Bonds 441

Jose Canseco 428

Cal Ripken 400

Ken Griffey Jr. 391

Fred McGriff 387

Harold Baines 372

Gary Gaetti 360

Rafael Palmeiro 354

Albert Belle 351

Chili Davis 347

Andres Galarraga 332

Darryl Strawberry 332

Good Company

Cal Ripken is the 29th player in major league history to hit 400 or more home runs:

The 700 Club

Player HR

Hank Aaron755

Babe Ruth 714

The 600 Club

Willie Mays 660

The 500 Club

Frank Robinson 586

Harmon Killebrew 573

Reggie Jackson 563

Mike Schmidt 548

Mickey Mantle 536

Jimmie Foxx 534

Ted Williams 521

Willie McCovey 521

Ernie Banks 512

Eddie Mathews 512

Met Ott 511

Mark McGwire* 509

Eddie Murray 504

The 400 Club

Lou Gehrig 493

Willie Stargell 475

Stan Musial 475

Dave Winfield 465

Carl Yastrzemski 452

Dave Kingman 442

Barry Bonds* 441

Andre Dawson 438

Jose Canseco* 428

Billy Williams 426

Darrell Evans 414

Duke Snider 407

Cal Ripken* 400

* active player

Coming soon

Ken Griffey Jr. 391

Fred McGriff 387