Another round of cheers chased Cal Ripken into the dugout in the sixth inning, one inning after the game became official and he tied Lou Gehrig's consecutive-games record of 2,130 games.
The Orioles shortstop had just homered, and as he pulled on the Velcro straps of his batting glove, he flopped down on the bench, next to teammate Brady Anderson. "I didn't think that ball had a chance," Anderson said to his friend.
"The baseball gods," Ripken replied, "helped it out."
There was ample evidence of such intervention last night. First, Ripken got through the game unscathed, and he is prepared to break Gehrig's record tonight. He had three hits, including the home run. The first outs of the game were recorded on a strikeout-caught stealing double play, Ripken applying the tag; the last out came on a ground ball to Ripken.
And the final score. No runs for the California Angels, eight -- Ripken's number -- for the Orioles.
"I'm not in the business of script-writing," Ripken said afterward, "but if I were, this would've been a pretty good one."
He acknowledged that he was exhausted, his sleep interrupted by nervousness and anticipation over the past week. But in his post-game news conference, Ripken appeared euphoric, smiling broadly, talking about how much he enjoyed all of this. A moment, he said, that he would want to wish for everybody.
But he shared the moment with 46,804 fans in attendance, his teammates and the Angels. They began to rise, prepared to acknowledge greatness, even as Greg Myers' fly ball descended upon center fielder Brady Anderson for the final out for California in the fifth inning -- the last official out needed for Ripken to tie Gehrig's streak of 2,130 games.
Ripken ran off the field, but there was no escaping the cheers. His teammates were waiting for him in the dugout, bench coach Chuck Cottier and then pitcher Jamie Moyer and, at the last, Anderson wrapping both arms around Ripken.
The numbers hanging off the warehouse were suddenly illuminated, the "Day One" music building simultaneously to the crescendo of cheers. Bodies turned toward the numbers, bodies belonging to the umpires, players from both dugouts, grounds crew members.
A zero rolled over the nine, a three over the two, and 2,129 becoming 2,130, and an explosion of cheers brought Ripken out of the Orioles' dugout. He stood and waved, raising both arms, turning to all directions, shaking his head slightly. Camera flashes reacted to his every move.
Ripken looked at his wife Kelly and wiped at his right eye with a finger. A suggestion to her, perhaps, or maybe some self-maintenance. Plate umpire Al Clark stood 40 feet away and applauded.
Ripken turned and looked at the numbers on the warehouse. Stared hard. Once, and then twice. He raised his arms and looked back into the dugout, where his teammates had formed a wall on the top step. He wasn't going back in. Not yet.
Two minutes and 45 seconds into the ovation, Bobby Bonilla finally relented, waving Ripken into the dugout. But the crowd wasn't finished with Ripken. The faces of him and Gehrig appeared on the JumboTron side by side, and the roar pitched again. Unstoppable.
"A very powerful moment," Ripken said later.
Orioles rookie Curtis Goodwin circled directly in front of the shortstop, holding a minicam, recording history. Ripken smiled. Another small shake of his head, and then he came out of the dugout again.
He slapped his chest and looked around, the message clear: Thank you, from the heart.
Again he retreated to the dugout, and Clark told Jeff Manto to get into the box.
"I was like, 'No way,' " Manto said. "I wasn't going to start hitting then."
Clark waved his arms into the air. Couldn't play in such a din.
"There's no way that an umpire is going to steal from a positive moment that is not just Cal Ripken's, but all of baseball's," Clark said later.
The crowd called for Ripken, pleaded for him, chanted his name. Ripken smiled an embarrassed smile, sat in the dugout. They kept chanting.
Ripken emerged for the third time, waved and walked back down the dugout steps, and 5 minutes and 20 seconds after Anderson had gloved Myers' fly ball, baseball and The Streak had resumed at Camden Yards.
"Hey, Al," Manto said to Clark, looking around the ballpark, "how do I top this?"
They would stand again for Ripken, when he ran onto the field for the top of the sixth, after he hit a home run in the bottom of the sixth, after the game.
The buildup for this moment started years and months and days, and hours before. Ripken was the last Oriole to emerge from the clubhouse to begin pre-game stretching, and a platoon of photographers and camera people waited for him to step onto the field. They stood in two rows, forming a human tunnel like you might see at the Super Bowl when players are introduced.
Eventually, Ripken sprinted out of the dugout, through the tunnel, before making a right turn toward the outfield. As he appeared, the earliest arriving fans, waiting in the right-field stands, bellowed a collective greeting, and Ripken waved to them. Streak Week: When standing ovations are given during pre-game stretching.
Underneath the stands, a succession of news conferences was being held. Ripken's first manager, Earl Weaver, then Orioles trainer Richie Bancells, and teammates Anderson and Mike Mussina, all offering their particular insights on The Streak.
Weaver: "I moved him [to shortstop] because the team needed him at shortstop. It was no stroke of genius by any stretch of the imagination."
Bancells: "I think it's fair to say that he is what we would call a 'quick healer.' "
Mussina, tonight's starting pitcher: "I don't think it's possible to treat it like any other game."
The Camden Yards gates opened at 5:35 p.m., and almost immediately, the place filled, some fans rushing to the concession stands to buy programs, others crowding around the Orioles' dugout, searching for a glimpse of the man about to accomplish something that almost nobody believed to be possible when Lou Gehrig's streak ended 56 years, five months and three days in the past.
Almost nobody. Anderson believed. All the way back in 1988, the year the Boston Red Sox traded Anderson to the Orioles, he and Ripken joked about Games No. 2,130 and 2,131. We'll sleep in the clubhouse for a week beforehand, he told Ripken. We'll travel to the stadium in a Brinks truck.
The first of the record-setting days finally arrived yesterday, and Anderson stood in the hallway leading to the Orioles' clubhouse and admitted that he was having a hard time trying to find words for exactly what he felt. "Part of me would like the chance to sit back and enjoy this," he said.
On the bench?
nTC "No, not on the bench," he said. "Part of me would like to be up there in the stands, with my dad, clapping for Cal."
Anderson acknowledged that he has had trouble sleeping during Streak Week, out of nervousness for his friend, and Sunday, he had a very frightening thought after some confusion on a pop fly down the left-field line.
He and Ripken had closed on a foul ball, and as he neared the infield, Anderson sensed that Ripken would make the catch and pulled up. Ripken never called him off, but Anderson pulled up anyway, and the shortstop made the catch.
"Hey, you going to call for the ball or what?" Anderson yelled good-naturedly to his teammate. "What happened on that? I might've run you over."
Ripken replied: "A little man like you? C'mon."
Anderson laughed, but as he returned to his position, his smile dissipated, and awful thoughts came to him. "What if I came up and just clipped him?" Anderson said yesterday. "What if I had done that? What if I had run into him full-steam?"
But nothing like that happened. For more than 13 years, nothing like that has happened.
Anderson and Orioles catcher Chris Hoiles admitted before the game that they have felt powerful emotions as the numbers have been unfurled on the warehouse wall. Hoiles was in the on-deck circle Monday when the fifth inning ended, and he hustled back to the dugout and quickly donned his gear so that he could be on the field when The Streak was officially upgraded.
Anderson was running onto the field with Ripken in the sixth inning Monday, and the cheers rose as the John Tesh theme began to echo around Camden Yards.
"Hey, you want to stick around for a few moments?" Ripken yelled to Anderson.
"Sorry, buddy," Anderson replied, "but you're on your own on this one."
Anderson thought about that moment again yesterday, about his friend standing out at shortstop, his emotions bared for all to see.
"It would be kind of lonely out there," he said. "Don't you think?"
Not quite. For a day, Ripken and Lou Gehrig stand together.