Cal Ripken achieved his latest milestone on the road last weekend, much to the chagrin of Orioles fans who wanted to share in the moment at Camden Yards. Fortunately for them, he had a little something left when he got back home.
His flair for the dramatic comes in many shapes and forms. And in many locations.
Ripken led off the ninth inning with a homer off Tampa Bay reliever Jim Mecir, giving the Orioles a 3-2 victory over the Devil Rays last night before 40,077 and extending their winning streak to three games after consecutive postponements had left them idle.
The homer, which came on a 1-0 pitch and completed a rally that began in the seventh, was Ripken's third this season among his 10 hits. It also was the third game-winning blast of his career, the most recent coming July 13, 1984, against the Chicago White Sox. And it gave Ripken 3,001 career hits, moving him past Roberto Clemente into 22nd place all time.
All it failed to do was give Mike Mussina his first win.
Mussina left after eight innings with the score tied, assuring that he would go four straight starts without a victory for the first time since his last four appearances in 1998.
Ripken got hold of a breaking ball from Mecir and drove it into the seats in left, setting off a wild celebration. The Orioles (8-5) have been on the other end of such dramatics. They were beaten twice in Kansas City on walk-off home runs before finally seeing how the other half lived.
"It's one of the best feelings you can have, to end a game with a home run. It's one of the worst when it happens to you," Ripken said.
"If you were going to write a script on how to celebrate [3,000] all over again, that was the way to do it. Tie ballgame, sitting on 3,000, getting a chance to celebrate a sudden-death home run -- it's a good feeling."
The series had been stalled for two nights because of rain, keeping the Orioles' winning streak on hold and shuffling their rotation.
The game was delayed in the first inning last night, but for all the right reasons.
Ripken was given two curtain calls before the Orioles batted as the video board replayed his 3,000th career hit Saturday night in Minnesota. Only two of the four numbers dropped from the warehouse, leaving an embarrassing gap that had Ripken laughing in the dugout.
The mood stayed pretty light for the Orioles until the fourth inning, when Jose Canseco drilled a home run off Mussina to break a scoreless tie. Two batters later, Vinny Castilla cleared the fence in center field for a 2-0 lead.
"He made two mistakes and they hit them out of the ballpark, and we couldn't seem to get anything going while he was in the game," said manager Mike Hargrove. "I walked by Mike after the game and told him not to give up on us."
For Mussina, there rarely is any margin for error. Before last night, the Orioles had scored only six runs in his three starts while he remained in the game. In four of his seven losses last season, they scored two runs or fewer.
He avoided a defeat last night when shortstop Mike Bordick hit a two-run triple in the seventh inning to erase a 2-0 deficit. Mussina breezed through the eighth before being replaced by Mike Trombley, who got out of a bases-loaded, one-out jam in the ninth to record his first victory as an Oriole.
"It makes it tough to pitch when you know the game's on the line with every pitch you throw," said Mussina, who's 0-1 despite a 3.41 ERA. "After the first inning it always seems like the game's on the line. When they hit those two home runs, I seriously wondered if we would be able to mount a charge."
The Orioles were handcuffed for six innings by veteran Steve Trachsel, one of the free agents they could have obtained over the winter while scavenging for another starter.
Trachsel had escaped a bases-loaded jam in the fourth when he retired Charles Johnson on a fly ball to left. Albert Belle had tripled to center with one out, and walks to Harold Baines and Will Clark were sandwiched around a called third strike to Ripken. Johnson, who leads the club with five homers, just got under a pitch from Trachsel to keep the Devil Rays' lead intact.
The Orioles got a one-out walk by Brady Anderson in the fifth, but he was caught stealing to end the inning. Clark walked again with one out in the seventh and Johnson ripped a double into the left-field corner. Bordick fell behind 0-and-2 before increasing his club-leading RBI total to 19 with a shot into the right-center field alley.
"I've been sticking with the same approach since spring training, and fortunately it's carried over for the first couple weeks of the season," said Bordick, who went 2-for-3 to raise his average to .400 and extended his hitting streak to a career-high 14 games dating to last season.
This was the Orioles' first swipe at the Devil Rays since last season, when they lost seven of 12 games. They've joined Oakland as the only teams with a losing record against the Devil Rays since they came into existence in 1998, going 11-14.
Mussina remains on the positive side of the ledger. He was 4-1 in five starts against Tampa Bay before last night, though a lifetime 5.07 ERA was his highest against any club. The lone loss was the worst of his career, when he allowed 10 earned runs in 3 2/3 innings in a game last April.
Five days had passed since Mussina's last start this season, when he left after eight innings in Kansas City with the score tied, 5-5. Two postponements kept him on the shelf. Other circumstances, including slow starts and scant run support, kept him winless.
Tampa Bay put two runners on with two outs in the first inning on singles that barely eluded Bordick and second baseman Delino DeShields. Irritated to be in a jam only inches in the making, Mussina struck out Greg Vaughn.
He stayed in command until the fourth, when Canseco yanked a fastball inside the left-field foul pole. Castilla also jumped on a fastball, which ended up in the Orioles' bullpen for his first homer.
The first two Devil Rays reached in the fifth on an infield hit and a walk to No. 9 hitter Kevin Stocker. This time, Mussina remained clean by striking out Gerald Williams and getting a fly ball and a force at second.
Mussina issued leadoff walks in the next two innings without allowing a run. He stranded pinch runner Dave Martinez at second base in the seventh after a sacrifice bunt, and left after the eighth having allowed six hits among his 110 pitches. He walked three and struck out seven.
"We all know how great Moose is and when he doesn't have his good stuff, he seems to battle and battle," Ripken said. "Tonight he seemed to have pretty good stuff and their pitcher was pitching a little better than he was. With [Mussina's] consistency over the long haul, he'll be where he should be."
Opponent: Tampa Bay
Site: Camden Yards
Time: 1: 35 p.m. TV/Radio: HTS/WBAL (1090 AM)
Starters: Devil Rays' Ryan Rupe (0-2, 11.20) vs. O's Pat Rapp (1-0, 3.75)
Tickets: From Tuesday's rainout
Averaging nearly seven runs in their first 12 games before last night, the Orioles' bats have been largely silent with Mike Mussina (0-1 in four starts) on the mound:
D Op IP ER Orioles
4/3 Cle 7 2/3 4 In opener, scored 1, 4-1
4/8 Det 8 1 Won it in 10th, 2-1
4/13 KC 8 5 Trailed 5-4 in 6-5 loss
4/19 TB 8 2 They broke 2-2 tie in 9th