Long ago drained of suspense, the Baltimore Orioles' season has been boiled down to its basics. It's about Jerry Hairston, Matt Riley and the other youngsters. And it's once more about Cal Ripken's pursuit of history.
With typically perfect timing, Ripken is making the Orioles worth watching at a time when there is nothing on the line. He did his part again tonight by creeping a bit closer to 3,000 hits with four singles in the Orioles' 5-4 victory over the Seattle Mariners in front of 43,290 at Oriole Park at Camden Yards.
Mike Bordick's home run off Seattle left-hander Rob Ramsay won it with one out in the bottom of the 12th inning. The Orioles (65-76) got around to Bordick because they scored a run to tie it in the eighth and because five relievers combined for six shutout innings.
Ripken singled to center in the first, singled to center again in the fourth and dumped singles to right in the sixth and eighth. His final hit drove home B.J. Surhoff with the tying run, and Ripken was then lifted for a pinch runner.
It was Ripken's first four-hit game of the season and the 26th of his career. When he was removed, he had collected his 2,978th hit, leaving him 22 hits from 3,000 with 21 games remaining.
"I don't think there's any doubt he wants to get it this year," Orioles Manager Ray Miller said. "It's a once-in-a-lifetime thing. He's seeing the ball as well as he ever has, and I think he's probably having as much fun as he's ever had. It's got to be exciting."
Ripken's health could be the deciding factor in his getting 3,000 hits. With a cranky back that has forced him on to the disabled list twice, Miller said he hoped to start Ripken every game the rest of the way.
"But I'm not going to risk it by pushing him," he said. "Is it possible for him to do it this season? Yes, especially if he throws in a couple of three- or four-hit games."
Ripken hit his 400th home run eight days ago and is attempting to become the seventh player in history to hit at least 400 home runs and collect 3,000 hits. When he gets there, he will join an elite list with Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, Eddie Murray, Stan Musial, Dave Winfield and Carl Yastrzemski.
Until the eighth, Ripken's three hits looked as if they wouldn't be enough. Mariners shortstop Alex Rodriguez and designated hitter Edgar Martinez tagged Orioles starter Doug Linton (1-3) for back-to-back home runs in the top of the sixth inning for a 4-3 lead.
The Orioles tied it in the eighth on singles by Surhoff and Ripken, then held on until Bordick won it.
After a horrible opening two months, the Orioles have cobbled together a respectable bullpen with Scott Kamieniecki, Al Reyes and others.
Linton took a 3-1 lead into the sixth, but when he plunked Ken Griffey in the back with a curveball, he came undone. He slammed his glove to his thigh after the errant pitch, then watched Rodriguez deposit his next pitch over the fence in right-center for a 3-3 tie. Martinez then stepped up and lined one into the left field seats for a 4-3 lead.
"Linton tried to get inside and he ends up hitting Griffey," Miller said. "That's not too good. That's a good way to wake up a team."
The Mariners made that lead stand up until the eighth as starter Paul Abbott (6-2) allowed three unearned runs in seven innings.
Linton got his first big league victory in three years in his last start and seemed on the way to another one before hitting Griffey and allowing the home runs.
In the end, it came down to Bordick in the 12th. He worked Ramsay to a full count, then got a fastball that appeared to be high and inside. Bordick swung and launched it over the left field wall.
"I got the count to 3-2 and wanted to be aggressive," Bordick said. "He threw me a fastball that was out of the strike zone, but I'd been swinging at that pitch all night anyway. I didn't know it was going out of the park, but I did hit it in the air and it happened to get out."