The 1997 season brought a confession from Cal Ripken. It came in Oakland before an early August game, and it illustrated just how deeply the dents had begun to form in baseball's Iron Man.
"He told me, 'I can play like this for one more month. I don't think I can play with this for three more months,' " recalled outfielder Brady Anderson, Ripken's best friend on the team. "But he grinded it out."
Ripken's back flared up while charging a slow roller by Oakland's Scott Brosius in the first inning. He stayed in the game, collecting a single in his next at-bat, and homered the following day as his condition steadily improved. But it was a sign of trouble to come.
Anderson had a similar discussion with Ripken in Baltimore. "He told me he didn't think he was going to be able to play," Anderson said. "I go, 'Come on, man, you've got to play. Just go out there, see what happens. If it hurts, you come out.' He said, 'All right, I'll play today, but if I have to come out early I'm not going to keep the streak alive coming out early. I won't do it.'
"He played in I don't know how many hundreds of games after that."
There were other changes besides Ripken's health.
He moved to third base on a permanent basis after the Orioles signed Mike Bordick as a free agent. After the Opening Day game, the Orioles announced that Ripken had agreed to a two-year contract extension with an option for the 2000 season. He batted .270 with 17 homers and 84 RBIs while again playing every day.
Rest didn't come to Ripken without an argument. Plate umpire Al Clark ejected him in the second inning of a July 20 game for disputing a called third strike.
Ripken homered in a May 31 game against Cleveland, breaking a tie with Brooks Robinson for the Orioles' all-time lead in total bases with 4,274. He also hit his 500th career double June 22.
Ripken also started his 14th consecutive All-Star Game, but his first as a third baseman. He went 1-for-2 at Cleveland's Jacobs Field.
Having settled for a wild-card berth in 1996, Ripken and the Orioles went wire-to-wire to win the AL East. They got past Seattle in the Division Series, with Ripken batting .438, to again reach the American League Championship Series, but were beaten by the Cleveland Indians in six games. Ripken batted .348. It would be his last playoff appearance.
Year G AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI Avg.
1997 162 615 79 166 30 0 17 84 .270