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Best is yet to come, but how?


And tonight, we do it again.

Only bigger this time.

Only better.


How many curtain calls will he make?

How many tears will he cry?

How long will his standing ovation last?

"It might not stop," Orioles pitcher Ben McDonald said. "The pitchers might have to go back to the bullpen and warm up."

Until the tacky post-game tribute, last night was inspiring and overwhelming, exhilarating and draining, one of the loveliest moments in sports history.

And tonight, after 13 1/2 years, Cal Ripken will break Lou Gehrig's consecutive-games record at last.

"I don't know how anyone else feels," Ripken said during the tribute, "but I'm exhausted."

At this point, it's half-coronation, half-lovefest, but who cares? Sports should be this good all the time. So should the Orioles, for that matter.

Last night, they hit six homers, as many as they've ever hit in Baltimore during their 42-year history.

Who would believe it?

Dead all season, the Orioles suddenly are the life of the party.

Maybe the commemorative balls are juiced.


Ripken is going to play, with apologies to the weepy, nostalgia-holic, don't-do-it-Cal crowd.


President Clinton will be here, and even he can't mess it up.


"I think we might catch a lot of people crying," Orioles outfielder Curtis Goodwin said.

No doubt, last night will be difficult to top.

Hank Aaron was in attendance. Who'll show up tonight, Babe Ruth?

Ripken received a gold record from Joan Jett afterward, a Top 10 List from David Letterman, a "Grease" jacket and prolonged hug from his wife, Kelly.

He also was the subject of a racy, hilarious mock scene from "The Young and the Restless."

No, Dorothy, this was not Yankee Stadium, 1939.

Nor did it compare with the gorgeous ceremony that marked the closing of Memorial Stadium in '91.

The Orioles went overboard -- there were so many pop-culture references, you almost expected Roseanne to show up -- but maybe they'll stage a classier encore.

Tonight, Ripken gets the keys to the governor's mansion.

Or maybe the White House.

Last night's ceremony lasted forever, but it had its moments.

Former major-league pitcher Jim Gott giving Ripken the game ball from the first game of the streak -- and his first major-league victory -- was cool.

Frank Robinson giving Ripken a replica of the "Here" flag from Memorial Stadium -- even cooler.

But Tom Selleck?

Enough already.

Bring on 2,131.

The Orioles' starter will be Mike Mussina -- yes, the same Mike Mussina who hit Seattle's Bill Haselman with a pitch in June 1993, triggering a brawl in which Ripken twisted his right knee.

What would Mussina have done if Ripken's streak had ended because of the fight?

"I probably would have quit the game, hid in the hills somewhere and been an outcast like [Bill] Buckner," Mussina said.

"Obviously, someone with a higher authority didn't think it was my fault. Now I get another chance, to play in the game."


The Angels' starter, Shawn Boskie, knows teammate Troy Percival was booed loudly when he threw a breaking ball too far inside to Ripken Monday.

A hit-by-pitch tonight won't prevent Ripken from setting the record -- he already would have played an inning in the field -- but Boskie figures it might start a riot.

"I would plan on trying to get back to the hotel underground somehow," Boskie said, smiling. "That [the booing] shows how much he means to the fans.

"You hear about players protecting each other. You wouldn't need to worry about that with him. The fans might run on the field."


Even the anthem performers will be a step up -- Joan Jett did her throaty best last night, but comparing her to Bruce Hornsby on piano and Branford Marsalis on saxophone is like comparing Jackie Gutierrez to Ripken.

Hornsby said he and Marsalis have performed the anthem for only three other sporting events -- the NBA All-Star Game in 1991, the final Celtics game at Boston Garden and the Ken Burns baseball documentary.

"This is right up there, or transcends all those," he said. "People from Boston might beg to differ, but that was a local thing. This is national. This is as special as it gets. What can you say? It's the greatest."


Ripken went 3-for-5 with a home run last night. The Orioles ripped 17 hits. Scott Erickson pitched a gorgeous, three-hit shutout, not that anyone noticed.

The game ended with a 6-to-3 putout.

Tonight, Ripken turns an unassisted triple play.

On nights Ripken shares Gehrig's record, the Orioles are 1-0. On nights he holds it, they might never lose, and actually win the World Series again before he retires.


Orioles right fielder Bobby Bonilla purchased two of the $5,000 seats that will benefit Johns Hopkins University research on Lou Gehrig's disease. Rafael Palmeiro joked that he wouldn't mind sitting in them.


More balloons, more streamers, more ceremonies.


The next record, and counting.


Tonight and forever, at Camden Yards.

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