Cal Ripken finished up his season the way he spent most of it -- signing autographs.
Ripken was still dressed in a sweaty black Orioles' T-shirt, dirty white uniform pants and spikes about an hour after the season finale -- the 2,153rd straight game he had played -- as he reflected on his record-breaking campaign.
"It was an unbelievable experience," said Ripken, his cap and sunglasses sitting atop his head. "Overall, it was a lot of fun. It got a little more nerve-racking at the end, but it was a very positive thing. It was a great thing."
Statistically, Ripken finished with another solid season -- .262 batting average, 17 home runs and 88 RBIs, plus a solid year afield. After breaking Lou Gehrig's consecutive-games record, he fell into a 3-for-44 slump and admitted to a letdown.
"The day after the two-day event here I was wiped out, but the body can recuperate quickly," Ripken said. "Mentally, it was a different story."
That didn't stop him from fielding it. Ripken finished the season with a 70-game errorless streak, 25 short of the major-league record for shortstops he set in 1990.
"I played real well defensively," Ripken said. "Especially lately, my positioning has been very good."
Ripken said he plans on spending a lot of time with his family and is looking forward to being home for dinner "regularly."
Palmeiro named O's MVP
Ripken wasn't the only one who had a great year.
Rafael Palmeiro was named the Most Valuable Oriole yesterday. He finished with a .310 average, 104 RBIs and a career-high 39 home runs, matching the third-highest total by an Oriole.
Palmeiro had been trying awfully hard for home run number 40 these last two days, so much so that he angered Tigers manager Sparky Anderson on Saturday by swinging at a 3-and-0 pitch.
Palmeiro and Anderson patched things up before yesterday's game, and Palmeiro continued to hack away. He walked, singled to right, grounded to short, walked again and was left on deck in the bottom of the eighth. "I was just trying to hit the ball out in front a little too much," he said.
Tigers tributes paid
The tributes were short but respectful for Anderson, the departing Detroit Tigers manager, as well as second baseman Lou Whitaker and shortstop Alan Trammell, who are leaving the Tigers and most likely retiring.
The fans gave Anderson a standing ovation after he exchanged lineup cards with Orioles manager Phil Regan. He made two curtain calls during a third-inning video presentation. Players from both teams were applauding, including the Orioles' Chris Hoiles and Kevin Bass as they stood on the on-deck circle.
Whitaker and Trammell played an inning, bringing their AL-record total of games played together to 1,918. Whitaker struck out and Trammell singled, one of two hits given up by Mike Mussina, who again threw them nothing but fastballs out of respect.
"I was trying to throw the ball straight over the plate," Mussina said. "I tried to help them go out on a positive note. That's how I want to end my career."
Catcher Chris Hoiles made sure Mussina threw only fastballs . . . but for a price.
The former Tigers farmhand got four autographed baseballs, two each from Trammell and Whitaker, in return. "To see them go, it's almost like part of the family going," said Hoiles, referring to the two players and their manager.
When Trammell and Whitaker took the field, Ripken and second baseman Jeff Huson each presented the two with a base. The two longtime Tigers were greeted by their teammates and then retook their positions and finished out the inning.
Regan reflected on his first year as a major-league manager.
Best moment: "It's got to be Cal Ripken. He brought the team together. It was a very emotional week. I tell you it's one of the greatest things I've ever seen in baseball."
Most frustrating moment: "I think probably the injuries we had were frustrating. The injuries to Hoiles, Leo Gomez, Ben [McDonald], [Jeffrey] Hammonds. The inability of [Andy] Van Slyke to play was disappointing because I thought he was really going to help."
Around the horn
Things players are doing this off-season: Mussina is coaching junior varsity football, Jeff Manto is refereeing high school and college basketball games and Jamie Moyer is finishing up his college degree. . . . Regan has talked about making Kevin Brown a closer. . . . Bobby Bonilla, who was 2-for-4 yesterday, takes a career-high 20-game hitting streak into next season.
The Orioles drew 3,098,475 fans this season, second only to the Colorado Rockies in the major leagues. The team's attendance in four years at Camden Yards:
Year ... ... ... Total ... .... Dates ... ... Avg.
1992 ... ... ... 3,567,819 .... 80 ... ... .. 44,598
1993 ... ... ... 3,644,965 .... 80 ... ... .. 45,562
1994 ... ... ... 2,535,359 .... 54 ... ... .. 46,951
1995 ... ... ... 3,098,475 .... 72 ... ... .. 43,034