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Angels glad to be along for ride 2,131: RIPKEN PASSES GEHRIG


For Dundalk native Mike Bielecki, one inning of work last night provided a lifetime of memories.

A relief pitcher for the Angels, Bielecki threw a scoreless sixth as part of a historic night at Camden Yards, when Cal Ripken bypassed Lou Gehrig on the list of consecutive games played. And he relished every minute of it.

"This is big," he said. "I had gotten up earlier in the game. The whole time, I was thinking, 'Please, let me get in this game.' The phone rang and my heart was beating out of my chest.

"I've played in the postseason, and this felt like one of those games. I played sandlot ball with Cal when we were younger, so it was really meaningful for me to take part in this." The rest of the Angels also found special significance in this night.

Grown men sounded like little boys as they spoke of Cal Ripken's monumental achievement. And they were honored to be a part of his 2,131st consecutive game and the pageantry that accompanied it.

As the new number was unveiled, the Angels stood in a line outside the dugout and applauded. They came back out each time Ripken emerged on the other side, and again when he ran a lap around the field. All of them shook his hand. A few embraced him. Catcher Jorge Fabregas ran over from behind home plate to greet Ripken. Right fielder Tim Salmon removed his glove and clapped. Pitcher Shawn Boskie tried to stay loose.

"This was something I've never been through, but I was prepared for it to happen," he said. "I looked at it as a rain delay. I didn't really enjoy it the way I would have if I wasn't a part of the game. This team needed a win. I couldn't step out and enjoy the moment. I'll enjoy it when I watch the video later."

Salmon had a souvenir ball at his locker as he dressed after the game, still marveling at the reception that Ripken had received. "That was the longest ovation I've ever heard," he said. "It's just awesome to see the way people can show their likeness for somebody."

Tony Phillips was the first man to bat last night, the future answer to a trivia question.

"I'm glad I'm a part of it. I knew it was going to be special," he said.

"To be here and watch this type of acknowledgment of a player is special. From [Tuesday] night, and even over the years, I knew Cal Ripken was not only a special player, but also a special person. This just made me realize how loved he is around this place."

As a middle infielder, Spike Owen can relate to the hazards that Ripken faces each game at shortstop. As the streak grew, so did Owen's respect for baseball's newest Iron Man.

"He deserves all the positive exposure. It's remarkable that he's done this, to avoid injuries for so long. I'm excited to be here and to witness it," he said.

Former Oriole Rex Hudler didn't expect to be in the lineup last night against right-hander Mike Mussina, and was "tickled to death" to find his name written in at second base.

He hoped to get a double last night, so he could stand at second next to Ripken. He even would have settled for the Orioles shortstop rapping an extra-base hit. As long as it was a good photo opportunity.

Perhaps no other visiting player has been moved by all of this quite like Hudler, who said, "I cry all the time. My emotions are on my sleeve."

Hudler, who was drafted ahead of Ripken in 1978, said it was difficult to imagine playing every game in one season, let alone what Ripken had done. "I play a week and I'm banged up. I have ice from head to toe," he said.

"Cal's an inspiration to everybody."

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