The question no longer seems to be whether Cal Ripken will reach 3,000 hits this season, but when. And as it pertains to the Baltimore Orioles' lineup, the issue is no longer how to get Ripken as many at-bats as possible, but how to slow down his momentum to ensure he gets the historic hit at home.
Three more hits Friday night in the Orioles' 4-2 victory over the Anaheim Angels -- the Orioles' season-high ninth victory in a row -- leave Ripken just 13 shy of 3,000 with 16 games remaining, including tonight's game against the Angels. Ripken is in the midst of a seven-game hitting streak during which he is batting .560 (14 for 25).
Tonight marks the second game of a nine-game road trip for the Orioles, which will be interrupted Thursday by a doubleheader in Baltimore against the Oakland Athletics, the result of last week's rained out games. After the doubleheader, the Orioles continue on to Boston for four games before wrapping up the season with a six-game homestand.
Suddenly, Orioles Manager Ray Miller is no longer being asked whether he will move Ripken higher in the order to get him more at-bats or play Ripken on his regular off days, but whether, if the scenario presents itself, he would rest Ripken in Boston so that No. 3,000 occurs at Oriole Park at Camden Yards during that final homestand.
"I don't believe in that," Miller said. "But if it got to that situation, I might talk to him about it. [Sitting Ripken] would be a consideration. But it would have to be really close. And I don't think Cal would go for that one bit because Boston's in the pennant race."
"I'd love to be able to do it at home," Ripken said. "But it's not something you really can force. It would be against how I feel you should play the game. It feels foreign to me. I feel you should play as hard as you can and try to get as many hits as you can. . . . If I feel good, I want to play as much as I can."
Ripken's three hits Friday night were part of a 12-hit attack that helped starter Scott Erickson (14-11) win his fourth straight start. Hurricane Floyd turned the Orioles' trip from Baltimore to Anaheim into a 48-hour ordeal of false starts and aborted takeoffs, and ultimately forced the unusual move of flying five hours cross country on the morning of a night game.
"It can test your limits, doing what we did today," said Orioles closer Mike Timlin, who pitched a scoreless ninth for his 22nd save. "It shows a lot to be able to play as well as we did."
Ripken's contributions were surpassed only by those of catcher Charles Johnson, who went 4 for 4 for a second straight game, picking up his first triple since 1997 along the way. With hits in nine straight at-bats, Johnson is one short of Ken Singleton's club record, set in 1981.
A career .234 hitter, Johnson is an unlikely candidate for such a record of consistency, but he nonetheless is a streaky hitter prone to periods of frighteningly solid contact. "There are just times when I see the ball better," he said.
Nobody is seeing the ball better these days than Ripken, whose batting average has risen to a season-high .342, a staggering 66 points higher than his career average entering this season.
Ripken's swing "is just so quick," Miller said. "I thought last year he was out in front, trying to cheat to get to the heater. Right now, he just has a real quick bat and real quick hands. He's hit some pretty nasty pitches. He's hit balls down and away, rode them to right field. He hit one out [of the park] the other day that was down under his hands."
Orioles Notes: Left-handed pitcher Doug Johns has had recurrence of the condition that caused his insomnia a year ago, according to General Manager Frank Wren, and remained in Baltimore to receive treatment. Wren characterized the problem as being "of a personal nature" and declined further comment.
Johns, 31, was forced to go on the disabled list in May 1998 for insomnia, and has been on medication since. On April 5 of this year, he was arrested for possession of marijuana. However, Wren said the club does not believe Johns's condition is substance-related, and Johns has not been suspended.