- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 30, 2001


NEW YORK As the temperature drops and the calendar shifts from September to October, much of baseball becomes focused not on what happened today but on what is about to happen in the coming days.

For the Baltimore Orioles, it's the celebration of Cal Ripken's final week in uniform. For the New York Yankees, it's the anticipation of yet another postseason run, one that may be approaching too soon for a suddenly ailing team.

The Orioles' 7-2 victory yesterday before 55,310 at Yankee Stadium brought Ripken one step closer to today's road finale and the farewell speech that will accompany it. Saying goodbye on the same field where Lou Gehrig made his famed "Luckiest man on the face of the Earth" speech in 1939 won't be easy, Ripken concedes.

"I don't train for [public speaking]," he said. "That's more nerve-racking than swinging a bat."

Ripken hadn't yet decided exactly what his pregame address will consist of, other than a few things he wants to make sure he says "in a certain way." It will likely carry with it even more emotion than his speech in Boston on Thursday, when Ripken appeared to be slightly choked up.

The emotions may be getting to him at the plate as well. After an 0-for-4 performance yesterday, Ripken finds himself in an 0-for-14 slump that has dropped his batting average to .253.

"I've been having a difficult time the last few games, getting all revved up and everything," he said. "Sometimes you try a little bit too much. There's an even balance to staying focused, and it's difficult to contain my emotions right now."

Ripken's focus in the field doesn't seem to be affected. Although he was charged with a throwing error in the second inning, his diving stop of Todd Greene's hard grounder was the beginning of a spectacular 5-4-3 double play at a potentially crucial point in the fifth inning.

The Orioles held a 7-0 lead after three innings, but starting pitcher Calvin Maduro faltered after four no-hit innings. With one Yankee having already scored and runners on the corners, Ripken dived to his left to spear Greene's grounder, fired to second base and watched Jerry Hairston make a nice turn to complete the double play.

"That was one of the keys of the game," Maduro said. "I thought off the bat it was a base hit. When I saw Ripken dive and Jerry make the turn, I said, 'Wow.'

Maduro (5-6), who scattered two runs and six hits over 7? innings, earned his second straight win and continued his late-season push for a shot at next year's rotation.

"He's had a couple or three bad outings where we couldn't get him out of there quick enough," manager Mike Hargrove said. "But on the whole, Calvin has gone out and pitched well enough for us to stay in a ballgame. I don't think anybody is unhappy with Calvin and the job that he has done for us."

Maduro was aided by the Orioles' six-run second, an inning that featured only two hits but five walks by Yankees pitchers. It didn't take long to figure out something wasn't right with starter Orlando Hernandez, who all but stopped throwing his fastball in the second inning and couldn't get anything over the plate. El Duque walked Tony Batista with one out, got Brady Anderson looking, then walked Geronimo Gil, Hairston and Luis Matos in order.

Yankees pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre emerged from the dugout for what appeared to be a routine mound visit, but once the entire infield, manager Joe Torre and home plate umpire Paul Schrieber joined the meeting, it was obvious Hernandez (3-7) was injured.

He left the game with what the Yankees called tightness in his right elbow, not a good sign for a team already hurting as it approaches the postseason. Outfielders David Justice (strained groin) and Paul O'Neill (stress fracture in left foot) are unable to play in the field. Left fielder Chuck Knoblauch hyperextended his left wrist trying to make a diving catch Friday night, and left-hander Andy Pettitte will miss at least one start after getting hit in the left arm by a line drive.

Suddenly, New York's first-round series against the Oakland Athletics (who own the majors' best record since the All-Star break) looms even larger.

"[Hernandez] really didn't say there was any pain in there it was just a general discomfort," Yankees manager Joe Torre said. "I don't know if he's just at the point in his progress where he just has a little bit of a tired arm, because he can't pinpoint the spot. I guess we'll just have to wait until tomorrow and see how he comes in."

Anderson left the game in the fourth inning with a strained right quadriceps muscle. Anderson, who is listed as day-to-day, apparently aggravated the injury while stealing second base in the third inning.

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