- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 26, 2001


BOSTON As their retiring star seeks to reach the coveted 3,000 games played plateau over the final two weeks of his career and his likely successor continues a late push to secure his standing for next season, the Baltimore Orioles no longer look like a team destined for 100 losses.

On the contrary, the Orioles have played some of their best baseball of the year over the past week. With last night's 12-7 victory over the Boston Red Sox, they've now won five of their last six games and need only to post a 3-9 record down the stretch to avoid the franchise's first 100-loss season since 1988.

Outplaying and outclassing the uninterested Red Sox, who were officially eliminated from the AL East race with the loss, Baltimore received five strong innings from Jose Mercedes, a potentially game-saving defensive play from second baseman Jerry Hairston and another big offensive night from Ripken heir-apparent Tony Batista.

Removed from the starting rotation earlier this month after recording his 17th loss, Mercedes returned in place of injured right-hander Josh Towers to earn his first win since Aug. 15. With two more starts scheduled before season's end, Mercedes (8-17) was in a position to become baseball's first 20-game loser since Oakland's Brian Kingman in 1980, but has now ensured that will not happen.

Frequently a victim of poor run support this season, Mercedes took the mound last night with a 4-0 lead thanks to Chris Richard's three-run homer and Brady Anderson's RBI single. He got off to a rough start, surrendering two runs in the first, but recovered to toss four scoreless innings after that.

"Sometimes, people see how you finished, not how you started," Mercedes said. "For me, I really want it, because I really need it. I'm going to try hard in my next two starts and try to win those games. Ten wins is better than eight wins."

Mercedes nearly saw his effort wasted, though, after the Baltimore bullpen was tagged for three runs in the seventh and two more in the eighth, with the Red Sox cutting the lead to 8-7.

Then, with runners on first and third and two out, Boston slugger Manny Ramirez struck a hard hopper up the middle off B.J. Ryan, but Hairston made a tough play going far to his right and fired across his body to first to retire Ramirez, ending the rally.

"It was a magnificent play, a highlight play obviously," manager Mike Hargrove said. "As far as keeping momentum on our side, yeah it was a big play."

In the top of the ninth, Batista who already had two hits to ensure his sixth-straight multi-hit game crushed a grand slam over the Green Monster in left field to pad the Orioles' lead.

"I think my good time has come right now. I'm going to enjoy it and do my best, for me and for the team," Batista said. "It's going to be a tough situation, playing third base in Baltimore after Cal leaves."

While Hargrove is utilizing the last month of the season to look at several young players with minimal previous experience, he has made a concerted effort to keep Ripken in the starting lineup every day. The retiring superstar, who played on average three to five days a week through most of the season, started his 13th straight game last night and could likely remain in the lineup for the Orioles' final 12 games. He needs to play in 11 more to become the eighth player in major-league history to surpass the 3,000-game mark.

"We'd like to do that," Hargrove said. "I talked to Cal about it. I don't know if we can or not, but we're going to try."

The biggest obstacle standing in the way is a day-night doubleheader on Oct. 5 against the Red Sox. In recent years, Ripken would rarely play both ends of a doubleheader, but with this one occurring on the second-to-last day of his career, that could change.

Hargrove also noted that he has thought about letting Ripken play shortstop again before he retires, "maybe just for one inning." Ripken briefly traded positions with shortstop Alex Rodriguez at the start of this year's All-Star Game, but has not played there in a regular-season game since June 15, 1997.

Notes First baseman David Segui, who did not make the trip to Boston, is due to have his injured left knee examined in Baltimore this week, at which time a decision could be made to perform surgery. Segui, who signed a four-year contract with the Orioles last winter, has played in just five of the last 31 games… .

Nikco Sports is offering 5,000 limited edition Ripken retirement baseballs to the public, with a portion of the proceeds to go to the Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation. The balls, which are being sold for $34.95 each, feature the official Ripken retirement logo, a photo of the Iron Man and a list of his career achievements. They can be ordered by phone at 800/345-2868 or on the Internet at www.nikcosports.com.

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