Though aware of the delicate nature of a troublesome back and how spasms can strike without warning, players and coaches within the Orioles' clubhouse said they were surprised to learn that third baseman Cal Ripken had left the club and undergone season-ending surgery yesterday in Cleveland.
"He was playing better than before," said reliever Jesse Orosco. "That was probably the best stretch he's ever played in his career."
"The surgery part stunned me, that it happened so quickly," said third base coach Sam Perlozzo. "Cal never lets you totally inside his world. You never know exactly what he's feeling all the time. All I can tell you is, if he opted for surgery right there, he needed it. He must have felt that was it, he had enough."
Ripken batted .474 in his last 10 games and .365 in 17 games since coming off the disabled list for a second time on Sept. 1.
"I was shocked," said Ryan Minor, who again takes over Ripken's position. "I was looking forward to him getting two or three hits, like he does every night. It was unfortunate. It's a terrible thing to see.
"He showed no signs of being hurt or anything the last couple of weeks. That's one of the things with Cal. You can't tell if he's hurt. Only a few people really know when he's hurting."
Perlozzo knew. He noticed Ripken stretching uncomfortably after taking the field during the eighth inning of Tuesday's game in Texas and sought him out in the tunnel to check on his back.
"I said, 'Are you OK?' and he said, 'I'm going to tell [manager Ray Miller] I'm out of there.' And that was it. He had already made up his mind," Perlozzo said.
Miller's response to hearing that Ripken had consented to surgery had nothing to do with losing a hot bat in the lineup.
"My initial reaction was, 'Good. Get it done before you really hurt something,' " he said. "I've known that kid since he was 12 years old. I was just scared to death. You can have all kinds of permanent damage if you have a nerve messed with. You bang it real hard or something, and you might not ever play again.
"Anytime you have surgery, there's always a certain amount of danger. But he's got one of the best in the country [Dr. Henry Bohlman] doing it. I think Cal will really be relieved, because he's been doing great, but you just look at his face and know that he was paying a price to play. Ever since the second time he had the back problem, it's been good days and bad days."
Brady Anderson, Ripken's closest friend on the team, said it was a "relief" that Ripken chose to have the surgery now.
"I just think it's good for him to get it done," Anderson said. "I think he would have had the surgery done anyway, whether it flared up again or not. We'll just have to wait for 3,000 hits, I guess."
Much of the disappointment for players and coaches centered on Ripken's falling only nine hits short of the milestone.
"You want to be part of history whenever he's out there playing. You want to be there when he gets 3,000," Minor said. "I've been a part of a couple things with him, the streak and 400 home runs. I was really looking forward to seeing him get 3,000 hits."
Said Perlozzo: "The hype had built up for all of us. We're still going out and playing the games, but you're not going to sweep that under the door. We were all keyed into that."
Teammates didn't hesitate when asked if they believed Ripken would recover sufficiently to continue playing next season.
"Do I have any doubts? If he can be back, he will be," said B. J. Surhoff.
"I'm sure he'll be back," Orosco said. "I'm just glad nothing happened to him on the field, where he was swinging the bat and just went down."
Miller said he was confident Ripken would return next year. "Maybe next week," he said, grinning.
Made for the movies
Though clubhouse space was limited because of the swarm of media members seeking information on Ripken's surgery, rookie infielder Jesse Garcia must have felt more relaxed than he had in days.
Garcia had about 80 family members and friends in attendance for the two games in his home state of Texas. Ticket requests outnumbered that total.
"People kept calling me in my hotel room, waking me up early, asking to get them this and get them that," he said. "I was kind of nervous, wanting to show them I'm up here and I'm playing and I'm feeling pretty good."
Garcia was euphoric after hitting his first major-league home run Wednesday. Could the timing have been any better?
"That's something that happens in the movies. I was on cloud nine. It's unexplainable," he said.
Garcia pointed toward the cluster of seats in the upper deck that had been transformed into his personal cheering section. "Everyone was going crazy up there," he said.
"I thought the roof was going to fall off up in that one corner," Miller said. "He was smiling from ear to ear. It was nice to see."
Miller said he held rookie Matt Riley for Game 2 last night rather than starting him in the opener, because he wasn't sure how deep the left-hander would go and wanted to keep "the unknown at the end.
"If he goes early, I don't want to blow up the bullpen and leave [Sidney] Ponson naked," Miller said.
Miller ended up using four relievers to follow Ponson in Game 1 after the right-hander allowed six runs and 10 hits in 4 2/3 innings. B. J. Ryan was the most effective, striking out four in 2 1/3 scoreless innings. Riley needed 34 pitches to get through the second game's second inning, when he loaded the bases with one out, but didn't allow a run.
Gillick interviews in Seattle
Pat Gillick, general manager for Toronto's World Series-winning teams in 1992 and 1993 and for two Orioles playoff clubs, has met with Seattle president Chuck Armstrong to discuss the Mariners' GM job.
Gillick is now an official with Team USA Baseball. He became Toronto GM in 1984, eight years after joining the organization. He was the Orioles' GM from 1996 to 1998. The Orioles made the playoffs in two of those three years. Watson, 53, was general manager of the Astros in 1993-1995 and the Yankees in 1996-1997.
Around the horn
Albert Belle had four doubles in Game 2, tying a major-league record. It's been done 20 times before in the NL and AL, but he's the only player to have done it twice in the same league and in the same season. Ponson's eight strikeouts in Game 1 were a career high. Mike Bordick's third-inning sacrifice fly in Game 1 was his 10th this season, ranking third in the American League. Oakland's Mike Macfarlane has 10 homers and 41 RBIs lifetime against the Orioles. Matt Stairs' homer in Game 1 was the 24th to land on Eutaw Street and the fifth this season.
Pub Date: 9/24/99