Baseball's iron man completes his last away game

Cal gives fans, Yankees one for road

Posted: Monday, October 01, 2001

NEW YORK -- About 3 1/2 hours before the final road game of his career, Cal Ripken Jr. sat in the visitor's clubhouse at Yankee Stadium on Sunday, watching a movie on a big-screen TV.

In shorts and a T-shirt, empty plastic plate and cup in hand after breakfast, Ripken took in ''61'' -- about Roger Maris, Mickey Mantle and the pursuit of 61 homers 40 years ago.

The story of the Yankees, history, and an unbreakable record seemed an apt choice for Ripken, whose Hall of Fame career has less than a week left.

He was honored with a 15-minute ceremony Sunday before the Orioles and Yankees played the closing game of a three-game series, the latest in a string of tributes to Baltimore's star.

Ripken, who announced in June that he would retire at the end of the season, started Sunday at third base for the Orioles -- his 126th game at Yankee Stadium, the most by an opposing player. His first game there was June 18, 1982.

He went 0-for-7 with four strikeouts Sunday in a game called because of rain with the Orioles and Yankees tied 1-1 after 15 innings.

It's the first time in his 21 years in the major leagues that Ripken went 0-for-7 and the second time he had so many Ks in one game.

In the field, Ripken made a nice grab on Bernie Williams' liner in the seventh inning.

Flashbulbs popped and most in the announced crowd of 55,351 stood and applauded each time Ripken batted. A chant of ''Let's go, Cal!'' arose during his at-bat in the ninth inning.

There were about 5,000 spectators remaining -- still cheering and snapping photos -- when he flew out to left in the 14th. And in a testament to his Iron Man legacy, Ripken was still in the game when the tarp was put on the field 5 hours, 1 minute after play began.

''I know there will be many things that I'll miss about baseball, but coming to New York and playing in Yankee Stadium will always be at the top of that list,'' Ripken told the crowd during a pregame speech interrupted repeatedly by applause.

''As a fan of baseball, you realize the history of baseball -- period -- is very rich, but Yankee history is a very big part of that history. Just being able to walk out there is a certain feeling. By playing on it for the last 21 years, you begin to realize why it's special. The atmosphere is special.''

He seemed to want to soak it all up, playing catch with his two children on the grass in front of the visitors' dugout and running sprints from third base to second about an hour before the game.

Ripken then signed autographs for fans leaning over the railing along the left-field line. Several spectators held signs, including ''Bye-Bye Birdie'' and ''Holy Cal!''

Ripken helped rescue baseball from itself after labor problems cut the 1994 season short. He showed his savvy and class the next year, signing thousands of autographs as he closed in on and broke Lou Gehrig's record of playing in 2,130 consecutive games -- a mark Gehrig set with the Yankees.

Sunday's ceremony was staged near the spot where Gehrig, dying from a neurological disorder that would become known by his name, said goodbye to New York fans in a moving speech on July 4, 1939. Gehrig told the stadium, ''I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth.''

Ripken originally was scheduled to play his final series of the season -- and of his career -- at Yankee Stadium on Sunday. That changed, of course, when the season was extended a week to make up the games postponed by the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Ripken's season instead will end at home next Saturday.

''You're going to miss seeing him when you go to Baltimore and when they come here, because he's been there forever,'' Yankees manager Joe Torre said. ''The way he's handled his stardom is a great example for kids and adults alike.''

The pregame tribute, just off the dirt behind home plate, included Torre giving Ripken's wife, Kelly, a dozen long-stemmed pink roses, and former Yankees All-Star Don Mattingly presenting Ripken with a pin commemorating his last game in the city.

Ripken also was given an enlarged and framed copy of the commemorative ticket each fan was given at the stadium. Reading ''Farewell Cal Ripken,'' the tickets have black-and-white pictures of Ripken and Gehrig.

Leading off the eighth against reliever Ramiro Mendoza, Ripken swung at the first pitch and hit a high popup that Derek Jeter -- one of today's star shortstops inspired by Ripken -- caught in foul territory. The fans applauded as Ripken went back to the dugout, and they kept cheering until he climbed to the top step and waved.

By then, though, some had started heading for the exits. Many left after Ripken struck out swinging against Yankees starter Roger Clemens in the fourth.

They had seen the player they came to see -- the owner of more than 3,000 hits, 400 home runs and a certain first-ballot invitation to the Hall of Fame.

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