Ripken ties Gehrigıs mark of 2,130 games

The Associated Press

BALTIMORE ‹ Even for Cal Ripken, the moment was overwhelming.

Surrounded by players, umpires and fans who would not stop cheering, baseballıs reluctant hero took his place in the history book Tuesday night, tying Lou Gehrigıs hallowed record of playing 2,130 consecutive games.

He even punctuated the night by hitting a home run and making a play for the final out in the Baltimore Oriolesı 8-0 win over the California Angels.

ŒŒI donıt know how everyone else feels, but Iım exhausted. Iım even considering taking a few weeks off,ıı Ripken told the fans after the game, drawing laughs. ŒŒYou know Iıll be here tomorrow.ıı

Ripken had asked in advance that the game not be stopped in his honor. That was about the only thing that did not go his way all evening at Camden Yards.

The standing ovations began even before the first pitch. And when the game became official in the fifth inning and Ripken reached a record once considered beyond approach, it was a chilling scene as the spotlighted 10-foot numbers on the B&O Warehouse beyond right field were flipped over to read 2130.

The ceremony brought the loudest cheer yet, a 5-minute, 20-second standing ovation that included every player from the Orioles and Angels, and all four umpires.

Ripken appeared to dab away tears from the corner of his eyes, and even three curtain calls could not quiet the crowd of 46,804, including many who have seen him grow up in the area.

As if to prove he deserved such attention, Ripken went out and hit a home run the next inning, one of his three hits.

Most of the fans stayed in their seats for a postgame ceremony, held in front of the pitcherıs mound with Orioles announcer Jon Miller and Ripkenıs wife, Kelly.

The festivities included a Top Ten list taped by David Letterman and visits from career home run leader Hank Aaron, Baltimore Colts Hall of Famer Johnny Unitas, baseball Hall of Famer Ernie Banks, tennis star Pam Shriver ‹ an Orioles investor ‹ basketball stars David Robinson and Joe Smith, Olympic speedskater Bonnie Blair and rock singer Joan Jett, a Maryland native.

The whole event, meanwhile, was merely a prelude to whatıs coming Wednesday night.

Ripken was set to pass Gehrigıs mark that evening when the Orioles again played California. When Ripken reaches that mighty place, he will hold a mark that many thought was so unattainable that Gehrigıs plaque at Yankee Stadium, erected shortly after he died in 1941, praises him as a man ŒŒwhose amazing record of 2130 consecutive games should stand for all time.ıı

Ripken matched the mark when Tuesdayıs game became official, and a flood of black and orange balloons was unleashed as soon as the Angels were retired in the top of the fifth inning.

A cartoon of Ripken and Gehrig was shown on the centerfield scoreboard, accompanying the dozens of handwritten signs fans brought, and Ripken acknowledged the prolonged cheers by waving to all parts of the park.

ŒŒHeıs never asked any accolades,ıı said former teammate and current Angels infielder Rene Gonzales, who took part in the ceremonies. ŒŒIt was very emotional.ıı

While Ripken contends the streak that started May 30, 1982, is merely a product of showing up every day to work ‹ and some luck, since Ripken never broke a bone in his life ‹ others recognized its significance.

President Clinton and Vice President Gore were set to see the record-breaker; never before have the nationıs top two executives attended the same game outside Washington.

And for the first time in major league history a baseball bearing a playerıs name was being used in a real game. Specially made for the occasion, the balls used for games 2,130 and 2,131 were stamped with Ripkenıs name and a logo commemorating the event.

In another first, the American League approved the addition of seats on the field for a regular-season game. The revenue from those 260 box seats, costing $5,000 each Wednesday, will go to charities, including one benefiting amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), the disease that killed Gehrig and often is known by his name.

Ripken, 35, knows how Gehrig died, and knows how many straight games the Yankees Hall of Fame first baseman played. Other than that, though, Ripken has avoided learning too much about the man he has chased, afraid it might change his approach.

On Tuesday night, though, it was time for the two of them to stand together. Before the game, tape of Gehrigıs tearful farewell speech was played on the scoreboard and then Earl Weaver, Ripkenıs first manager in the majors, threw out the ceremonial first ball to Ripken.

ŒŒWhat is happening here is better than winning the state lottery,ıı Weaver said. ŒŒItıs just something fantastic, something that I donıt think any generation will ever see again.ıı

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