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Ripken staying power dims Mussina exit sign


The view of his former teammate, Mike Mussina, seemed peculiar yesterday to Orioles third baseman Cal Ripken. It came into focus as he raced past a Baltimore legend.

Ripken suited up for his 2,897th game as an Oriole, passing Hall of Famer Brooks Robinson for first place on the club's all-time list. He celebrated by going 2-for-3 against Mussina, who was making his first appearance against the only team he played for until signing a free-agent contract with the New York Yankees during the winter.

Only three players have been in more games with one club: Carl Yastrzemski, 3,308 with the Boston Red Sox; Hank Aaron, 3,076 with the Milwaukee/Atlanta Braves; and Stan Musial, 3,026 with the St. Louis Cardinals.

"I'm proud of the fact I've been able to play for so long," Ripken said while leaning against the back of a sofa in the home clubhouse.

"I feel lucky and fortunate I've been able to put the uniform on, especially the Oriole uniform."

Ripken's latest milestone was announced in the second inning before the Yankees came to bat. He was facing the same team that occupied the visitors' dugout when his record consecutive-games streak ended Sept. 20, 1998.

A sellout crowd rose to its feet for a long ovation, which Ripken acknowledged with a wave of his right hand. A video tribute played on the screen in center field. For a brief moment, Mussina's return to Baltimore had been upstaged.

"It was a little anticlimactic," Ripken said. "I'd like to be hitting better and feel better about my contribution, which I will. Maybe if you ask me in a week, I'll have a bigger smile on my face. But I'm proud that I've been able to play for so long."

It took awhile to reach the Mendoza Line, but Ripken did it yesterday with his second straight multi-hit game. He went 2-for-4 with a run scored in Saturday's loss, and added two more singles yesterday against Mussina. He'll take a .200 average to Tampa Bay.

The hardest ball Ripken hit turned into an out when Bernie Williams made the catch in center field to end the second inning. He sneaked a ground ball through the left side of the infield leading off the fifth and looped another single into right in the seventh.

"It was strange seeing [Mussina] out there, going up against him after all the years we've been teammates. But after you step in the box, you try to battle hard and do your job as a hitter," Ripken said.

"His knuckle-curve, I never had a chance to experience it from that side of the plate. It looks weird. It looks like a forkball but it breaks bigger than most people's breaking balls. He's got great stuff."

Ripken's first hit came on a slider, the second on the knuckle-curve - pitches he had gotten used to observing as an infielder behind Mussina.

"I've tried to battle to get my swing down and I'm starting to feel better the last few days," Ripken said. "It's a huge challenge when you face the caliber of pitching that the Yankees have - [Andy] Pettitte yesterday and Moose today. You battle the best you can. I got a ground ball that went through and I got another ball that fell in. Sometimes that's the way it goes."

Manager Mike Hargrove indicated before the series that Ripken would sit out yesterday's game, but gave him consecutive starts.

"We've got tomorrow off and he got a couple hits yesterday," Hargrove said. "Again, it's not a set plan where Cal's going to play Monday, Wednesday, Friday and not play Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday. We'll read the situation as we go."

Baseball's gamers

Cal Ripken yesterday moved past Brooks Robinson into first place on the Orioles' all-time games-played list:

On the Orioles' list

Player ................... No.

Cal Ripken .............. 2,897

Brooks Robinson ........ 2,896

Mark Belanger .......... 1,962

Eddie Murray ........... 1,884

Boog Powell ............. 1,763

On the all-time list

Pete Rose ............... 3,562

Carl Yastrzemski ........ 3,308

Hank Aaron ............. 3,298

Ty Cobb ................. 3,035

Eddie Murray ............ 3,026

Stan Musial .............. 3,026

Willie Mays .............. 2,992

Dave Winfield ........... 2,973

Rusty Staub ............. 2,951

Cal Ripken ............... 2,897

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