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Cal moves up hit list, but slowly, with bad leg

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Nineteenth of a series recounting Cal Ripken's 20 full major-league seasons.

On Nov. 1, 2000, Cal Ripken signed a one-year contract that assured his return for another season. But what kind of player would the Orioles be getting?

He was guaranteed to be a member of the 3,000-hit club, his single off Minnesota's Hector Carrasco on April 15 gaining him entrance. Only six others had collected that many hits to go with 400 home runs: Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, Eddie Murray, Stan Musial, Dave Winfield and Carl Yastrzemski. Only Ripken, Musial and Yastrzemski had done so with one team.

But Ripken appeared in only 83 games, three fewer than the previous season. Fifty-nine of them passed, beginning June 28, while he stayed on the disabled list because of inflammation in his lower back. He didn't return until September, as the Orioles completed Mike Hargrove's first season as manager with another fourth-place finish.

By the end, Ripken had passed Roberto Clemente, Al Kaline, Wade Boggs, Lou Brock, Cap Anson and Rod Carew to rank 18th on the all-time hits list with 3,070. Despite the long layoff, he hit safely in 13 of 20 games after coming off the disabled list, batting .307 with seven doubles, two homers and 13 RBIs. The homers came in his last three games.

Batting cleanup for the first time since August 1997, Ripken collected four hits during a Sept. 13 game in Texas. Each one belied his physical condition, which prevented him from playing in the All-Star Game despite his 16th election, which broke Carew's record.

Ripken, who grounded into his 329th double play on May 17 to pass Aaron for the most in major-league history, was reduced to being a designated hitter in 10 games as a concession to his back. The process of getting ready to play each night moved him from the field to the trainer's room.

"His leg atrophied so he couldn't run as well. Obviously if your leg's smaller than the other one, weaker than the other one, it's not as explosive as the other one," Brady Anderson said.

"He was skilled enough to compensate, but it was kind of hard to watch, knowing it was an injury and not his skills that were preventing him from playing the way he used to."

Ripken entered the following season needing to play in 23 games to equal Brooks Robinson's club record of 2,896. He needed four total bases to reach 5,000. He needed, most of all, to stay healthy - something he hadn't done in two years.

Statistics

Year G AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI Avg.

2000 83 309 43 79 16 0 15 56 .256

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