One of the best things about growing up as an Orioles fan in the Nineties was getting the chance to see Cal Ripken, Jr. play on an everyday basis. If you went to a game - any game - between May 30, 1982 and September 19, 1998, you got to see Cal play. I can remember feeling a certain letdown when I went to the ballpark and found that Rafael Palmeiro was being rested, or Mike Mussina had just started the day before, or so forth. William, one of the readers of this blog, has lamented that he always seemed to get tickets on days that Chris Hoiles sat out in favor of backup catcher Jeff Tackett. Then, of course, there were our friends from yesterday's entry who wanted to see Jeffrey Hammonds do his thing. But on June 2, 1994, not only did Cal Junior suit up and take the field for the 1,947th consecutive game, he had one of his best days that year.
The 1994 season on the whole was crucial for Cal. With the exception of his amazing 1991 season, in which he won his second MVP award and set or equaled career highs in practically every offensive category, he had not batted over .264 since 1986. There were whispers, growing louder every day, that Cal's performance was suffering because of The Streak. Some baseball pundits claimed that what he was doing was selfish, that he was putting personal achievements before the good of the team. But in 1994 Cal let his bat do the talking, swatting .315 and improving his OPS by 74 points over his 1993 figure. Just as Lou Gehrig's seemingly unbreakable record of 2,130 consecutive games played had come into sight, Baltimore's own Iron Man seemed to be getting stronger.
In Cal's first at bat against the Tigers on that Thursday afternoon, he started a rally in the most unlikely manner. Leading off the second inning with the O's trailing 1-0, he struck out. But catcher Chad Kreuter couldn't handle the pitch from lefty Bill Krueger (how do you like that battery? Krueger to Kreuter!), and Cal alertly took off running, reaching first safely on the wild pitch. Three singles in a row brought him home with the tying run. By the time Mike Devereaux grounded out to shortstop Chris Gomez (a future Oriole), the Birds had taken a 4-1 lead.
After a Tiger comeback, the scored was tied as Cal came up to bat again in the third inning following a Rafael Palmeiro double. Palmeiro stole third base, and Ripken drove him in with a single to give the O's a 5-4 lead and chase Krueger from the game in favor of reliever Storm Davis. Cal made it to the plate for the third straight inning in the fourth, this time facing Kurt Knudsen. Jack Voigt had walked to lead off and advanced to second on a Devereaux flyout. With two outs, the Tigers made the brilliant decision to walk Raffy intentionally to face Ripken. One deep fly ball over the fence in left-center field later, Cal had himself a 4-RBI game! The Orioles led 8-4 thanks to career home run number 301. (This was the first of #8's milestones that I would just miss; another would come the following year and will receive its own story in due time.)
For good measure, Cal would single in the sixth inning before fouling out in the eighth. The rest of the offense would pick up the slack in the eighth, however, scraping together three more runs to make the final an 11-5 win. Thanks in large part to Cal's early-inning heroics (3 for 5, 2 R, 1 HR, 4 RBI), emergency starter Scott Klingenbeck got the first win of his career in his first try and I went home happy. Now that's what I call a field trip.