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Road trip could rain on Ripken's parade here


These are extremely nervous days for the Orioles.

Not just because of the vaunted lineup they're facing in Cleveland, or the fact that it's time to make a move if the team is going to be a postseason contender. Rather, it is the makeup of the schedule over the next two weeks and the effect it could have on a certain event that might take place on Sept. 6.

Emphasize the word might. If everything falls into place, that's the date Cal Ripken would surpass Lou Gehrig's record of 2,130 consecutive games. Everything includes the elements, which is why the Orioles will be paying as much attention to weather forecasts as the standings -- especially for the rest of this month.

The next five series, including the current one against the Indians, and six of the next seven, are against teams the Orioles are not scheduled to play again until after Sept. 6. There is only one possible makeup date -- July 12, the day after the All-Star Game -- for five of those teams.

Like every other team in this strike-marred season, the Orioles' schedule is so crammed it will take a miracle, or extra playing days at the end of the season, to play 144 games. That's what is making the Orioles -- and anybody holding tickets for Sept. 6 -- very nervous.

To a degree, the Orioles can control the effects of a rainout at home by scheduling doubleheaders. But, on the road, they are at the mercy of the opposing team and would have to rely on whatever intervention the American League office could provide.

Protecting the Sept. 5 (when Gehrig's record would be tied) and Sept. 6 dates is of paramount importance to the Orioles. Those are the last two dates of a nine games in nine days homestand. Sept. 7 is an open date, but could only be used in the event of a postponement the night before. And that would create a logistical ticket nightmare the Orioles don't even want to think about.

After the All-Star Game, the Orioles have only two days off before Sept. 7 -- July 24, following a series in Kansas City, and Aug. 28, at the conclusion of a 10-day West Coast trip. A scheduled day off Aug. 10 will be used to make up a game with Boston. For practical reasons, neither July 24 nor Aug. 28 figures into the equation for possible makeups.

In fact, if Ripken breaks Gehrig's record, his most remarkable accomplishment will be surviving the stretch run to a new standard. If the current schedule is played as it was hastily redrawn after the strike, the record would be broken after the Orioles played 43 games in 44 days.

The good news to that scenario is that 26 of those games would be played in Baltimore. Between July 25 and Sept. 6 the Orioles will visit only five other cities -- New York and Boston, Aug. 7-13; and Oakland, Seattle and California, Aug. 18-27.

The timing is good for such an extensive stretch of home games. But there could be a price to pay. Ripken's durability will determine if Gehrig's record is to be broken.

But the weather in places like Cleveland, Detroit, Milwaukee, Chicago, Texas, Kansas City -- and Baltimore -- will decide when and where.

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