Cal Ripken may not have many more chances to return to play in the postseason, but he wants at least one more chance to do it with the same team that went wire-to-wire to win the American League East and came within two games of reaching the World Series.
"I look forward to the chance to establish some kind of stability and try again next year," he said.
That means everybody, including manager Davey Johnson, who clashed with Ripken last year over his impending move to third base, but earned his respect as the two fought side-by-side to build the best record in the American League.
"We accomplished a lot of things as a team," Ripken said. "There were a lot of different contributions from everyone in this clubhouse, and a great contribution from Davey. Everybody deserves credit and the opportunity to try again."
Ripken met with Johnson, general manager Pat Gillick, assistant GM Kevin Malone and vice chairman Joe Foss for about 10 minutes after the game. He congratulated them on the team they had put together and urged them to stay the course in 1998.
"The fact of the matter is, we had a tremendous year," he said. "That makes you feel good. That's what you set out to do in spring training. I told them I hope we have something to build on."
The sting of the Orioles' frustrating Game 6 defeat was still fresh, but Ripken endured it gracefully and tried to put the best possible face on the club's disappointing offensive performance in the American League Championship Series. The Orioles failed to hit in several key situations and scored a total of one run in their final two ALCS losses.
Ripken was one of the exceptions. He batted .348 in the series and had a single, a double and two walks in five plate appearances yesterday, but the offense combined to go 0-for-12 with runners in scoring position and finally lost on a 11th-inning home run by Indians utility man Tony Fernandez.
"It's disappointing when you don't get what you set out to get," Ripken said. "You know you had opportunities. We made things happen but didn't get the hit to win the ballgame.
"When you allow yourself to view the whole series, Cleveland did what it took to win. They executed well; they pitched well, and the ball bounced their way a few times. I don't really feel bad, but it's still disappointing you didn't get the chance to move on."
So, Ripken will go home and figure out the best way to get ready for the 1998 season. There has been speculation that he will undergo surgery to repair a disk injury in his lower back, but he would say only that he will act quickly to address the chronic back soreness that hampered him to varying degrees during the second half of the regular season.
"Very shortly, I'll have my back re-evaluated," Ripken said. "I'm going to collect some facts and make a decision very quickly. The encouraging thing is that I moved very well. I hope it's over and everything is OK."
The injury apparently is a bulging disk that causes back spasms and pain that radiates down his legs. Ripken can choose to try to alleviate the inflammation with rest and physical therapy, but he does not want to battle with it again next season.
"I've been running well and defensively have been able to move well and swing the bat, but you still want to know what you're dealing with," he said. "The worst thing that could happen is you could let it go and then go to spring training and have it flare up again."
Ripken might take solace from the experience of Seattle Mariners pitcher Randy Johnson, who had surgery last fall to correct a similar injury and came back to go 20-4 this year. If he has the injury repaired quickly, he probably would be ready to start spring training on time and keep his record consecutive games streak intact.
For the moment, however, he said that his only plan is to go home, play with the kids and watch the World Series.
Pub Date: 10/16/97