ARLINGTON, Texas -- Baltimore Orioles third baseman Cal Ripken left the team Wednesday to see a physician concerning a recurrence of the back injury that has forced him onto the disabled list twice. His departure casts doubt on whether he will play again this season but, at the very least, puts his pursuit of his 3,000th career hit on hold.
"You can't ever count out Cal. He may walk in tomorrow and play," Orioles Manager Ray Miller said. "But I'd just as soon let him get the problem taken care of and be healthy for next year."
Asked if he thought Ripken would miss significant playing time, Miller said, "I would think so. If it's enough to go to the doctor, I'd say he's pretty concerned." General Manager Frank Wren also said Ripken "most likely" will be out for some time. Ripken has been listed as day-to-day by the team.
Ripken, whose late-season surge has left him nine hits shy of 3,000 with 12 games remaining, traveled to Cleveland to meet with specialist Henry Bohlman, who has examined Ripken at least two other times this season. Ripken, 39, has nerve irritation in his lower back, which forced him onto the disabled list in April for the first time in his 19-year career and again in August.
There were few clues that anything was amiss with Ripken, and as of two hours before the team's game Wednesday night against the Texas Rangers, some teammates still had not heard he was gone. Miller did not know until being informed upon arriving at The Ballpark around 2 p.m. by Orioles head trainer Richie Bancells.
Rookie Ryan Minor, who was in the lineup last Sept. 20 when Ripken elected to end his record streak of 2,632 consecutive games, was in Wednesday night's starting lineup at third base.
Although Bancells said there was no single incident that triggered this recurrence, Miller and several teammates noticed Ripken hit the first base bag awkwardly and winced as he slid into second base with a double Tuesday night.
"I held my breath when he hit the double because as he hit the bag and went to take the first step to second, his foot kicked out from under him," Miller said. "Then he had to slide, and it didn't look too pretty. ... He was real quiet. I asked him if he was OK. He said yes, but then (later) he said, `You'd better get me."'
Miller removed Ripken from the game in the bottom of the eighth inning, a common occurrence in recent weeks. Ripken appeared fine in Miller's estimation as he lounged in the clubhouse after the game, but Ripken contacted Bancells early Wednesday morning complaining of back spasms that prevented him from sleeping, then left for Cleveland late Wednesday morning.
Three days earlier in Anaheim, Calif., Miller also noticed Ripken in some discomfort when he was slow getting out of the batter's box on a double-play grounder.
Bancells, who was the only person to speak to Ripken before he left for Cleveland, would not compare the severity of this recurrence to the others. However, even if this one keeps him out half as long as the other two instances, it would cause him to miss the rest of the season, which ends Oct. 3.
Ripken's first stint on the disabled list, at which time Ripken was batting .179 and struggling on the field, lasted from April 20 to May 13. When the injury recurred in August, Ripken said it didn't feel as bad as the first time, but it kept him out from Aug. 1 to Aug. 31, a week longer.
The back problems have tainted an otherwise rejuvenating season for Ripken. His .340 batting average and .584 slugging percentage are the best of his career and lead the Orioles. He hit his 400th career home run Sept. 2 and seemed poised to collect his 3,000th hit during the six-game homestand that concludes the season next week. Ripken was hitting .484 (18 for 38) in his last 10 games.
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