- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 15, 2001


ATLANTA If Cal Ripken had announced this retirement thing a few months earlier, he might be among the league leaders in every batting statistic in the book.The Baltimore Orioles' 40-year-old third baseman, playing in his last game at Turner Field, launched two home runs, leaving a sellout crowd of 50,069 screaming, standing and stunned last night as the Orioles defeated the Atlanta Braves 4-1.Ripken's fifth and sixth home runs of the season, which followed his dramatic blast in Tuesday's All-Star Game, extended the Iron Man's hitting streak to 15 games. During that span, he has batted a robust .356 and has left fans around the country wondering just how many more thrills one man can provide in the final 2 1/2 months of a storied career.
"Since I decided to announce my intentions, it felt like a weight has been lifted off my shoulders," Ripken said after last night's show.
With the score tied 1-1 in the sixth, Ripken drilled the first pitch he saw from John Burkett who caught Ripken's All-Star homer in the National League bullpen at Seattle's Safeco Field over the left-field fence to score both himself and teammate Tony Batista, who had reached on a throwing error by catcher Javy Lopez.
That led to a scene many Atlanta observers could not recall witnessing: a standing ovation for an opposing player that went on until Ripken finally emerged from the dugout for a curtain call.
Two innings later, Ripken had the crowd back on its feet when he crushed a 1-2 pitch from reliever Steve Reed into the left-field stands. It was the 19th two-homer game of his career and his first since July 24, 1998, against Anaheim.
Home run No. 2 brought a standing ovation and curtain call No. 2 in a surreal scene that seemed to take on a life of its own.
"Unbelievable," Ripken said. "Almost to the point where you feel like you're doing something wrong. It's very strange to get a curtain call in an opposing ballpark. It felt great, but I didn't want to disrupt the game."
Then again, seemingly everything that has taken place since Ripken announced June 19 that this would be his last season has defied logic. After going 0-for-3 that night at Camden Yards, dropping his batting average to .207, Ripken has hit safely in every game, going 21-for-59 and raising his average to .249.
He even kept his hitting streak alive Friday night with the second successful pinch-hit of his 21-year career and yesterday drew within two games of his career-best 17-game streak, accomplished three times.
Ripken's pair of blasts didn't just serve as a personal accomplishment. It provided the Orioles a much-needed lift after they had lost seven of their last eight and prevented a sweep by the Braves, who are tied with the Philadelphia Phillies atop the NL East.
Baltimore starter Willis Roberts offered up one of his best performances of the season despite appearing to lack his best stuff. The rookie right-hander, who won for only the second time in his last nine starts, held Atlanta to one run on five hits in 6? innings.
But he threw only 55 of his 93 pitches for strikes, walked three batters (one intentionally) and at one point during the sixth inning he became dizzy and hunched over. The entire Orioles infield rushed to the mound, as did manager Mike Hargrove, pitching coach Mark Wiley and trainer Richie Bancells. Roberts (7-7), though, composed himself and continued to pitch with no sign of trouble.
The trio of B.J. Ryan, Mike Trombley and Buddy Groom closed out the game. Groom notched his team-leading seventh save and apparently has taken over the closer role, at least for now.
The Braves, who scored their only run on Burkett's two-out single to right in the second, threatened in the bottom of the ninth when Brian Jordan reached on an infield single that Batista playing shortstop for the first time in two years could not handle. Brian Roberts, a late replacement at second base, then was charged with his eighth error in nine games when he tried to start a 4-6-3 double play but flipped the ball low to Batista, putting runners on first and second.
Groom, though, managed to get out of the jam by striking out Dave Martinez and Wes Helms on back-to-back checked swings.
Batista accounted for Baltimore's first run when he homered off Burkett (6-7) to start the fourth. It was Batista's second home run since joining the Orioles on June 25 and his 15th of the season.

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