BALTIMORE, Sept. 6 -- The record they said would never be broken was Wednesday, as Cal Ripken Jr. lapped the Iron Horse. The Baltimore Oriole shortstop passed what was once considered the most untouchable mark in professional sports -- baseball legend Lou Gehrig's record for consecutive games played. The streak Ripken began 13 years ago reached its pinnicle Wednesday night as he played in his 2, 131st consecutive game. Those who thought it would be difficult to surpass the emotion of Tuesday night's game, when Ripken tied the record and hit a home run, were sadly mistaken. Ripken -- with a sense of the dramatic that would make Laurence Oliver jealous -- homered again Wednesday night, timing his shot with his final at bat before the game became official. Camden Yards exploded with emotion as the game became official in the middle of the fifth inning amid fireworks and thunderous applause. In the celebration that lasted 22 minutes and saw Ripken take seven curtain calls, his teammates, some of whom had jogged in from the bullpen, surrounded him to offer congratulations. The balding 35-year-old shortstop then peeled off his No. 8 jersey and walked over to hand it to his five-year-old daughter Rachel. Underneath, he wore a black shirt emblazoned on the back: '2,230-plus hugs and kisses for Daddy.' Ripken then accepted congratulations from his brother, former Oriole second baseman Billy Ripken, and waved to his father, former Oriole coach and manager Cal Ripken Sr., seated in a luxury box.
As the lightbulbs sparkled and teammates rolled their video cameras, Ripken touched his hand to his chest to recognize the heartfelt support of the Baltimore fans. The members of the opposing California Angels, including former Orioles Rene Gonzalez, Rex Hudler and Rick Burleson, stood in their positions in the field and on the top step of the dugout to applaud the feat. After taking what he thought was his final curtain call, Ripken was coaxed out of the dugout by teammates Bobby Bonilla and Rafael Palmeiro to take a victory lap around the diamond at Camden Yards. As he jogged past the visiting bullpen, Angel players doffed their caps in a salute. Ripken proved himself to be mortal when he led off the second. The overflow crowd at Camden Yards -- which included President Clinton and Vice President Gore -- gave Ripken a standing ovation, booed Angels' pitcher Shawn Boskie for having the audacity to throw a first-pitch strike and then watched as the iron man popped up to the catcher. Ripken did have the opportunity to flash some of his gold glove form in the fourth when he started a double play on a grounder up the middle. He got a chance to redeem himself at the plate in the bottom half of the inning and, as always, came through. The slugger blasted a 3-0 pitch from Boskie into the leftfield seats for his 15th home run of the season and sent the crowd into yet another frenzy. But whether he hit or not, Wednesday night was clearly Ripken's turn in the spotlight. He stepped into the record books and joined the pantheon of now-legendary baseball heroes. The record belongs only to him. Others have fallen by the wayside. Twenty years ago it was Hank Aaron erasing Babe Ruth's career home run record, then Pete Rose surpassed Ty Cobb's all-time hit mark and mostrecently Nolan Ryan eclipsed Walter Johnson's strikeout total. Now it was Ripken's turn to do what was once inconceivable. The numbers are, by now, familiar yet still eerie in their consistency. A total of 3,712 major league players have gone on the disabled list since the streak began. The 27 other major league clubs used a combined total of 517 starting shortstops over that time, and Ripken has played next to 30 different second basemen -- with his brother Billy as his most frequent double play partner. His next closest pursuer, Chicago White Sox first baseman Frank Thomas, is nearly 1,900 games off the pace. Gehrig resorted to some pinch-hitting appearances to keep the streak alive, but Ripken remained a shortstop throughout. He came out for a pinch hitter only three times over the life of the streak. Ripken was on the field for 99.2 percent of the 19,386 innings his team has played since the streak began. In that time Ripken has made himself into a gold glove shortstop, using his well-documented knowledge of opposing hitters to make up for any lack of range. Yet despite playing all those innings at one of the game's most demanding positions he ranks third amongst active players in home runs and second in RBI during the streak. 'It is extremely impressive that Cal was able to do something like this while playing shortstop,' said St. Louis Cardinals shortstop Ozzie Smith. 'You have to have size and strength, which he obviously has. You have to have skill and you have to have some luck.' Luck has been but one factor in the streak. It has been a combination with equal parts of luck, grit, determination and courage. He has played when he was hot and played when he was cold. He played when he didn't feel well and played when he didn't feel like playing. 'There have been a couple of times I've considered (taking time off), thinking it would really make everything better,' Ripken said recently. 'To me, taking the day off has never been the answer to getting my swing right or getting my head right or anything else.' It was former Orioles manager Earl Weaver who was responsible for beginning the streak when he penciled a rookie third baseman named Ripken in the lineup on May 30, 1982. He moved Ripken to shortstop 27 games later. Weaver said the move was a no-brainer. 'Brooks Robinson played 23 years and averaged 3.2 defensive chances per game,' Weaver said Tuesday night. 'A shortstop will get five chances a game and be in the middle of more cutoff throws and more plays. That's where I wanted this guy.' As Ripken prepared for No. 2,131, he received a visit from the president and vice President and presented both with an Orioles' warmup jacket and an autographed bat and ball.