ARLINGTON, Texas -Four swings in eight innings last night became Cal Ripken's loudest statement during a week in which much was said about his future.
Ripken's three singles, double and fourth-inning RBI couldn't touch the four-hit productity of rookie first baseman Chris Richard, who piled on for five RBIs before the fifth inning. But Ripken's breakout on the final day of a 13-game, four-city, three-time-zone road trip suggests his bat has endured lower-back pain that cost him more than one-third of the season.
Ripken and Richard propelled the Orioles' 9-4 win over the last-place Texas Rangers, giving the Orioles a 6-7 road trip and allowing them to avoid a return to 16 games below .500, their low point to a fourth-place season. It also allowed Orioles starter Pat Rapp (8-11) enough cushion to survive a bumpy 5 2/3-inning ride for his second win in three starts.
Richard's game was statistically significant; Ripken's may have broader implications.
Since coming to the Orioles in a July 29 trade with the St. Louis Cardinals, Richard has virtually duplicated the numbers of his veteran predecessor at first base, Will Clark.
More and more, Richard suggests he possesses enough explosiveness to man a power-intensive position. Last night marked his second game of at least five RBIs since Sept. 2. He now has nine home runs and 26 RBIs in 145 American League at-bats. Clark, now thriving in the National League while the Orioles pay about $1 million of his leftover $1.8 million salary, had nine home runs and 28 RBIs in 256 at-bats with the Orioles. Richards' rate of one RBI every 5.57 at-bats challenges Albert Belle's of one RBI every 5.52 at-bats as the team's best.
Rangers starter Ryan Glynn (5-4) surrendered Richard's two-run, two-out double to set off a three-run first inning. Richard then scored on an error by Rangers Gold Glove first baseman Rafael Palmeiro.
The Orioles' season has only 16 games remaining, and Ripken's future is still hazy. Majority owner Peter Angelos attempted to defuse a smoldering flap concerning Ripken's contract status by insisting earlier this week that the future Hall of Famer would end his career in Baltimore. But talk of a new deal for the pending free agent must wait until Ripken's back confirms his return in 2001.
Ripken used the night to move past Robin Yount into 12th place on the all-time doubles list while also enjoying his 27th career four-hit game and first since Sept. 11, 1999.
After extending the first inning with a two-out single, Ripken scored from first base without a slide on Richard's two-out double.
Ripken again prepared a rally for Richard when he pushed Delino DeShields to third with a double in the third inning. A single scored both runners for a 5-1 lead.
Having entered the night 6-for-28 since returning from the disabled list Sept. 1, Ripken helped restore a four-run lead in the fourth inning with a one-out single to score Brady Anderson. Richard followed with his fifth RBI on a sacrifice fly to center field, giving him 15 RBIs for the road trip.
Rapp received a measure of justice for several recent unrewarded quality starts. At less than his best in his 27th start, Rapp walked four and allowed five hits in a performance that once brought manager Mike Hargrove to the mound for a stern lecture on the merits of aggressive pitching.
Though he never pitched with anything less than a two-run lead, Rapp offered suspense to a game that should have been decided early. The Rangers pulled within 3-1 in the second inning after a two-out walk to Ricky Ledee became a run on Bill Haselman's double.
A pair of leadoff walks in the third added to Rapp's degree of difficulity. Both Luis Alicea and Frank Catalanotto scored on Rusty Greer's lined double over the head of center fielder Eugene Kingsale.
Irritated by Tuesday night's doubleheader loss behind wild rookies John parrish and Jay Spurgeon, Hargrove showed less tolerance with Rapp. Instead of sending pitching coach Sammy Elliss to relay his message, Hargrove climbed the mound to offer his stern reminder.