Ripken Reaches Magic Number, Homers in Win
By Richard Justice
Until tonight, Gehrig alone held baseball's iron man record. He had it for 56 years, and along with Joe DiMaggio's 56-game hitting streak, it was thought to be one of the sport's untouchable records. Before Ripken, no one else even had gotten close -- Everett Scott, a Yankees shortstop in the 1920s, is third on the all-time list with 1,307 consecutive games. Ripken is expected to play in No. 2,131 when the Orioles and Angels meet again here Wednesday night.
"I've had a case of nerves the last week or so," Ripken said. "I normally sleep like a rock, but it seems like there's a switch turned on in my body. It was exhausting. It's great, nothing better, but I'm mentally exhausted. There's a sense of me that wants to get back to normal baseball. I'm looking forward to it, and I'm looking forward to the end of it. Coming to the ballpark, it seems like an eternity until the game began."
Ripken grabbed a piece of history on one of those magical evenings that included standing ovations and ceremonies and many remembrances of both Ripken and Gehrig. It brought a playoff-type atmosphere to a team buried in the standings, and the Orioles (56-65) responded with 17 hits and by tying a club home record with six home runs, including four in the second inning. Scott Erickson (10-10) nullified California's offense by pitching a three-hit shutout.
Ripken contributed three hits one of them a bases-empty homer in the sixth inning. His best friend on the Orioles, outfielder Brady Anderson, had a pair of home runs, and Chris Hoiles, Jeff Manto and Mark Smith also homered.
"It's a once in a lifetime event," Erickson said. "It'll be the most memorable event for many of our careers."
Ripken got a standing ovation each time he trotted out to shortstop and another each time he came to the plate. When the numbers 2,130 were unfurled on the B&O Warehouse beyond right field after the top of the fifth inning, Ripken received an emotional ovation that lasted four minutes.
He responded by stepping out of the dugout and onto the field three different times. As his wife, Kelly, sitting a few feet away, dabbed at tears, Ripken waved with one hand, then the other. He finally held up both hands, touched his heart and mouthed the words: "Thank you."
He seemed equally touched during a long, and at times silly, postgame ceremony when Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher Jim Gott trotted onto the field and handed him the game ball from May 30, 1982 the day Ripken's streak began.
Gott earned his first big league victory that day as the Toronto Blue Jays defeated the Orioles. Of all the players whose names appeared in that box score, he's the only other one still active. He shook Ripken's hand, called it an honor to have played against him and then handed him the ball. "A lot of things choke you up a little," Ripken said. "That was one of them. That was very hard. I didn't want to accept it. The meaning of baseball is to look back on moments, and that's one of his. I told him, You don't have to do this. This is yours.' I might have been more honored if he'd kept it."
For the first time, the numbers on the warehouse wall were illuminated, and with orange and black balloons and streamers being launched when the game became official, it created an eerie scene. Teammates surrounded Ripken to congratulate him in the dugout, and across the field the Angels saluted him with an ovation. At one point, Ripken appeared to step toward right field and take a peak at the gigantic numbers.
Former Orioles manager Earl Weaver threw out the ceremonial first pitch, then asked Ripken to autograph the ball. Still and always the Earl of Baltimore, Weaver received the first of many warm cheers and he answered them with an extra moment on the field to soak up the moment.
That moment brought the Ripken story full circle because The Streak began when Weaver signed the lineup card that included Ripken playing third base. A day earlier, Weaver had sat out Ripken in the second game of a doubleheader.
Before the game, the atmosphere had resembled that of a World Series game, and Ripken received a scare while signing autographs for a group of fans gathered in the stands behind the first base dugout. So many people pushed forward to get close to him that a small girl became pinned against the railing. Ripken helped free her and she was unharmed.
Anderson may have spoken for a lot of his teammates when he said: "I don't know if Cal's nervous, but I know I'm nervous for him."
Ripken had told Anderson last week that he was ready for a return to normalcy, and tonight it was business as usual. He handled his defensive chances cleanly, legged out an infield single in the first inning and narrowly missed a home run in the second. He singled in the fourth, then homered in the sixth. Fittingly, the final out of the evening was a grounder that Ripken fielded cleanly and threw to first.
Hoiles led off the bottom of the second inning with his 18th home run. Three of California starter Brian Anderson's next seven pitches also ended up in the seats, with Manto, Smith and Brady Anderson connecting for a 4-0 lead.
The Orioles turned it into a rout two innings later when they scored three more runs to make it 7-0. After that, it was party time. The crowd cheered each time Ripken left the dugout, and even with a big lead, virtually everyone stayed for a postgame ceremony that included all-time home run leader Hank Aaron, Hall of Famers Ernie Banks and Frank Robinson, Baltimore Colts great Johnny Unitas, Frank Robinson, singer Joan Jett, Maryland basketball coach Gary Williams and former Terps star Joe Smith.
Afterward, Ripken looked tired. "It all seems to be calming down," he said. "There's a little easing of the pressure. There's a sense of being halfway there, but there's also still some sense of terror about it. It seems like it has been building for years, but really it's just been since spring training."
© Copyright 1995 Washington Post Company