Ripken's quick close on 3,000 raises issue; If near plateau on road, should he sit 'til 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."

Ripken entered last night needing 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-50 (.380) 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."

After last night, 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.

"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 entered last night riding a seven-game hitting streak in which he was 14-for-24, 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 34 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 70-76 going into last night, the Orioles continue to surge with Ripken. Their nine-game streak was their longest since July 9-17, 1998. They hadn'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. Johnson entered last night needing a hit in his first at-bat to tie Ken Singleton's 18-year-old club record of hits in 10 consecutive at-bats.

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.

Late O's game

Last night's Orioles-Angels game at Edison International Field in Anaheim, Calif., did not end in time to be included in this edition. A complete report can be found in later editions or on the Internet at http: //

Orioles tonight

Opponent: Anaheim Angels

Site: Edison International Field, Anaheim, Calif.

Time: 8: 05

TV/Radio: HTS/WBAL (1090 AM)

Starters: Orioles' Mike Mussina (16-7, 3.65) vs. Angels' Mike Fyhrie (0-4, 5.15)

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