- The Washington Times - Monday, October 1, 2001


NEW YORK The 55,351 fans who assembled at Yankee Stadium yesterday for Cal Ripken's final road game braved cold, wind, rain and Father Time to catch a glimpse of what had all the makings of a dramatic and memorable event.

They instead settled for simplicity in the pregame ceremony before witnessing the ultimate of complexities a tie ballgame that might have to be replayed, and therefore reschedule Ripken's already-rescheduled last game.

There was no "luckiest man on the face of the Earth" speech on this day, only a few gift presentations from corporate representatives and a few words from the Iron Man himself, who closed his statements by thanking Yankees fans for "providing me with many great memories and for your tremendous support over the years. It's been a great ride."

The real noteworthy event came nearly six hours later, when officials called the game on account of rain after 15 innings with the Baltimore Orioles and New York Yankees tied 1-1. Though the game is considered official and the stats count, it will not show up in the standings, and therefore might need to be replayed from the start.

Considering how late in the season this occurred, the game would not be made up under normal circumstances. However, the lost game (along with a previously rained-out game against the Boston Red Sox) could have postseason significance for the Yankees (91-62), who at the moment hold a three-game lead over Cleveland (89-66) for the American League's No. 2 seed.

If New York, which is now scheduled to play only 160 regular season games to Cleveland's 162, somehow winds up with the same number of losses or one fewer than the Indians, the Yankees would need to play their two make-up games on Oct. 8 and/or Oct. 9 to determine first-round playoff matchups.

The Seattle Mariners have the best record in the league and will play the division winner with the worst record (currently Cleveland). The Oakland Athletics, as the wild card, will play the division winner with the second-best record (currently New York).

"There's a chance if we have one more loss than Cleveland, we could make them up," New York manager Joe Torre said.

The ramification for the Orioles, aside from the extra trip back to the Bronx for one more game, is that the final game of Ripken's career, which was already switched from New York to Baltimore after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, could be played at Yankee Stadium after all.

"Whatever happens, happens," Ripken said last night. "We'll have to wait and see. It's certainly nothing that can be controlled."

At the moment, the Orioles are to conclude the season with a seven-game homestand that begins tonight and ends Saturday against Boston.

"If we have to play, we have to play," Orioles manager Mike Hargrove said. "Come Feb. 15, it's got to be over. We've got to start a new one."

The bizarre scenario has come into play because 15 innings were not enough to settle yesterday's game. Deadlocked at 1-1 most of the afternoon New York scored on Bernie Williams' fourth-inning home run, Baltimore on Chris Richard's sixth-inning solo shot the two teams continued to play another nine innings without scoring again.

Both teams squandered a few late opportunities, with the two bullpens each pitching nine scoreless innings. A steady drizzle that had been falling much of the day became heavier in the 15th inning, and once Gerald Williams struck out to end the Yankees' half of the inning, the umpiring crew called for the infield tarp.

After waiting 37 minutes (the clock read 6:52 p.m. for a game that started at 1:14), officials called it off and ruled the game a tie.

"We played them to a standstill, didn't we?" Hargrove joked.

With the events of the nearby tragedy still fresh in everyone's mind, yesterday's half-hour pregame ceremony honoring Ripken was fairly subdued. Where previous cities like Boston, Oakland and Seattle celebrated the Iron Man's career with touching homemade videos, presentations by former great players and parading Little Leaguers, New York instead sent Ripken and his family out with a stash of gifts, each one presented by a different corporate sponsor, with the notable exception of ex-Yankee first baseman Don Mattingly.

Ripken's comments were lengthier than on previous occasions, but they were focused more on his Yankee Stadium memories than a broad career retrospective. Calling the House That Ruth Built "baseball at its very best," Ripken noted the most significant Yankees of his career, from Graig Nettles to Mattingly to Derek Jeter. He even invoked the name of home run-grabber Jeffrey Maier, drawing both laughter and boos from the stands.

"I know there are many things I will miss about baseball," Ripken said, "but coming to play here at Yankee Stadium will always be at the top of that list."

Like most everyone in uniform yesterday, Ripken struggled at the plate. The physically and emotionally drained 41-year-old wound up 0-for-7 with four strikeouts, but said he began to enjoy himself once the ridiculousness of the whole affair became obvious.

"It's a strange thing, because you put pressure on yourself and you want to do something a little more significant," Ripken said. "But when we started playing and the rain came down, everyone was just shaking their heads at some of the eeriness how the game was going. I started to get some energy and ran out of the dugout and started to smile a little bit more. I started to feel that this is baseball."

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