Ripken has 3,000 in sights, but which site?; If near milestone on road, should he sit until home?


ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Cal Ripken's recent offensive tear has created an intriguing possibility within a collapsing schedule. Should the Orioles third baseman continue to close on 3,000 career hits during the remainder of this nine-game road trip, would the Orioles consider "resting" the Iron Man so the accomplishment might occur during the season's final six-game homestand?

Manager Ray Miller, who has elevated Ripken within the batting order and discarded an earlier plan to periodically give him days off, downplayed the idea.

"For me, no," Miller said after Ripken smacked three hits in Friday night's 4-2 win over the Anaheim Angels, the Orioles' ninth consecutive victory. "But if it got to that situation I would talk to him. But for me, no."

General manager Frank Wren seconded Miller, saying, "That decision would rest in his hands more than ours. But it's not something we would contemplate. It's one of those special accomplishments where you have to be considerate to those involved."

Ripken, 0-for-5 last night, needs only 13 hits in the Orioles' remaining 16 games to join Wade Boggs and Tony Gwynn as the third major-league player this season to reach the milestone. The possibility of Ripken's reaching 3,000 hits before the final homestand seemed remote when he left the disabled list Sept. 1, but Ripken has gone 19-for-55 (.345) since returning.

Reminded of his pledge to rest Ripken, Miller acknowledged that a day off "would be a consideration. But it would have to be a real rest. And I don't think Cal would go for that one bit because Boston's in a pennant race."

The third baseman had conflicting feelings when asked.

"I'd love to be able to do it at home. I hope it works out that way," said Ripken. "But it's not something you can really force. It would be against how I feel you should play the game. It feels foreign to me. I feel you should play the game as hard as you can and try to get as many hits as you can. You can't change the way you play the game."

The Orioles have one game remaining against the last-place Angels, two games against the Texas Rangers and four against the wild-card-leading Boston Red Sox before returning home. A makeup doubleheader against the Oakland Athletics has been inserted between the Texas and Boston series, meaning Ripken could get to 3,000 hits during next Thursday's rescheduled games by averaging nearly two hits a game.

A possible compromise would have Ripken sit half of Thursday's doubleheader against Oakland and one of four games in Boston. However, Ripken downplayed the likelihood of manipulating the schedule to ensure a Camden coronation.

"I'd have to go on how I feel. You have to use judgment. But if you feel good, you want to play as much as you can," he said.

"It's not like I'm doing him a favor putting him in right now," Miller said. "He's hitting the heck out of it. The bat's making a real loud noise when he hits it."

Ripken's seven-game hitting streak ended last night, but after he'd gone 14-for-24 during the seven previous games, including a four-hit game Sept. 10 against the Seattle Mariners and his eighth three-hit game this season, against the Angels. He has managed 51 hits in his past 35 games, or 1.5 a game.

"His swing is so quick," Miller said. "I thought last year he was out in front cheating to get to [fastballs]. Right now, he's almost still with a real quick bat and real quick hands. He's handling a lot of nasty pitches. These haven't all been grooved pitches. He's hit balls down and away because some of them are going to right field. He hit one out the other night [against Seattle] under his hands. That's one when the pitcher comes in and tells the manager, 'Good pitch.' "

Ripken has already reached 400 career home runs this season. He got there Sept. 2, at home, in only his second game since returning from the disabled list.

At 71-76 after last night's win, the Orioles continue to surge with Ripken. They haven't been this close to .500 since June 23. Friday's win included another quality start by Scott Erickson (14-11), a three-run double by shortstop Mike Bordick in the fifth inning, right fielder Albert Belle's 34th home run in the seventh inning and catcher Charles Johnson's second consecutive four-hit game.

Despite two false starts in their getaway to the West Coast, the Orioles reached California without any negative side effects on Ripken's back.

It was after the Orioles' previous cross-country plane flight that Ripken experienced a recurrence of lower back stiffness, which placed him on the disabled list for four weeks.

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