With a glittering backdrop of flashing camera lights last night at Camden Yards, Cal Ripken moved next to the legendary Lou Gehrig by tying the New York Yankees immortal's record of 2,130 consecutive games. And on a night, when Ripken's place in baseball history was all that really mattered, his teammates took their cue and added a few entries of their own into the Orioles' team record book.
Ripken himself had three hits, including his 14th home run of the year, and Scott Erickson pitched a three-hitter for what will be one of the most ignored shutouts in baseball history as the Orioles beat the California Angels, 8-0.
As a team, the Orioles had 17 hits and blasted six solo home runs, one shy of the club record, but equaling the mark for a game played in Baltimore. Four of the home runs, including the first of two hit by Brady Anderson, came in the second inning, including three in a row, with both feats also tying team records.
Chris Hoiles, Jeff Manto and Mark Smith joined Anderson and Ripken in the homer barrage, with all three connecting in the second inning. The only other time the Orioles have ever hit four home runs in an inning came May 17, 1967, when Andy Etchebarren, Sam Bowens, Boog Powell and Davey Johnson connected against Boston at Memorial Stadium.
The back-to-back-to-back homers by Manto, Smith and Anderson marked the sixth time the Orioles have hit three in a row -- the last time coming Sept. 16, 1985, when Ripken, Eddie Murray and Fred Lynn homered in succession against Detroit, also at Memorial Stadium.
But for the sellout crowd of 46,804, last night's game was not about the final score or club records. It was a happening, an experience, act one of a once-in-a-lifetime spectacle that reaches its climax tonight, when Ripken is scheduled to step away from Gehrig's shadow and take his amazing streak to the 2,131 level.
From the time Ripken and the Orioles took the field at 7:37 p.m., flashbulbs popped at every photo opportunity, especially in the fifth inning. When Greg Myers flied out to end the top half of the inning, the game became official and Ripken had officially tied Gehrig's record.
Ripken came out of the dugout for three curtain calls during a standing ovation that lasted five minutes and 20 seconds. Earlier, when he batted for the first time in the opening inning, the crowd held up the game with a sustained applause that quieted only after Ripken tipped his batting helmet as the flashbulbs made Camden Yards take on the appearance of a Christmas garden.
By the time the number 2,130 dropped from the warehouse wall, the Orioles had a comfortable 7-0 lead. It was the first time since Aug. 15 (eight games) that a game at Camden Yards had become official after 4 1/2 innings.
Brian Anderson (6-8) escaped trouble in the first inning, when Brady Anderson doubled and Ripken had an infield single, striking out Bobby Bonilla and getting Rafael Palmeiro on a fly to left. He wasn't as fortunate in the second, when the Orioles swung like the 1927 Yankees, the most legendary team of the Gehrig era.
Hoiles started the onslaught with his 18th home run of the year and, after Harold Baines flied out, Manto, Smith and Brady Anderson homered in succession. In a span of only eight pitches, Brian Anderson surrendered four home runs, the last of which forced his early exit.
Two innings later, the Orioles added three more runs off right-hander Mike Harkey.
In the sixth inning, the man of the evening added a tidy footnote to his historical event by driving a 1-and-1 pitch from Mark Holzemer into the left-center field seats, prompting yet another curtain call.
Fittingly, it was run No. 8 for the Orioles, same as the one their shortstop wears on his back. From that point it was merely a question of tying up the loose ends of a record many thought would never be equaled.