Friday, May 8, 2020

Orioles Victory Card Number Eleven (1987 Season Edition): Rip is on fire

Baltimore Orioles Victory Number 11: 6-0 over the Minnesota Twins

2013 Topps Tribute Cal Ripken, Jr.

Two wins in a row! It's amazing what happens when you finally get some starting pitching from someone other than Mike Boddicker. After getting swept at home by the White Sox, the Orioles have taken the first two games of their six game road trip. The Minnesota Twins have been baffled by soft-tossing lefties on back-to-back nights.

First it was Eric Bell taking a no-hitter into the ninth inning and then needing four relievers to hold onto a 5-4 win (sounds like a modern game). Then it was Scott McGregor, yes the one with zero wins on the season, tossing a 6-0 shutout on the following night. The veteran lefty scattered three hits, walked three, and struck out only one hitter (Dan Gladden on a 78-mph "fastball") to pick up the win and bring a little life to a team that had been beat down by three weeks of bad play.

Perhaps McGregor and Bell were sparked by all of the talk of a roster shake-up following the sweep by the White Sox. Owner Edward Bennett Williams, GM Hank Peters, and manager Cal Ripken, Sr. had a closed door meeting to discuss the status of the team. Following the meeting Peters was asked if he was angry, his response was positively Yoda-esque: "Am I disappointed or angry? I'm disappointed, and disappointment leads to anger."

As of the beginning of the series there were no roster changes, but with a long stretch of games ahead of them and a couple of veterans coming off of the injured list, a shake-up was all but inevitable. Despite the struggles, there was one constant - Cal Ripken, Jr.

Now into his sixth season in the major leagues, the rock-steady shortstop was off to a career-best start. With no support behind him in the line-up Ripken was still hitting .333 with 9 home runs, 30 RBI, and a .706 slugging percentage. That percentage had been boosted over the last couple of games as his last nine hits were all for extra bases.

Coming off what some considered a sub-par 1986 where he still slashed .282/.355/.461 with 25 HRs and 81 RBI a subtle change to his batting stance was fueling a raucous start to the season.  Even his outs were loud at this point as he was ripping line drives all around the park. In typical Ripken fashion he downplayed his success since it wasn't leading to team victories.  He also didn't consider the fact that his dad was manager as having any influence on his hot start to the season.

His early season surge was even more impressive considering the rest of the heart of the order was floundering. Fred Lynn was hitting just .198 and nursing a bruised rotator cuff in his left shoulder that he suffered on opening day. Eddie Murray was also hitting .198 with just 3 HRs.

In the field he was his usual self. Oddly enough, during this stage of his career he wasn't exactly a defensive whiz. His fielding percentage for 1987 (.973) was about average for the position (.970) and he was making about 20 errors a season. His 740 chances in 1987 was third in the majors, trailing only Ozzie Smith and Ozzie Guillen. The fact that he played almost 80 innings more than the second place shortstop (Smith) is more indicative of the struggles of the pitching staff than Ripken's range.

Of the 20 errors he made that season, none of them came on throws. Which is a testament to the consistency and strength of his arm. Having watching his entire career it's still somewhat odd to think that he booted 19 ground balls (his other error was on a dropped throw) as it seemed that he fielded everything that ever was hit in his direction.

No one was talking about him being worn down yet despite the fact that he was still in the midst of his consecutive innings played streak and had just moved into the top-10 in regards to consecutive games played all time. Granted, that talk would rear its later in the summer as things cooled off for him as the season went on. For now, he was one of the lone bright spots during a gloomy start for the Orioles.

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