Baseball: Ripken's home run ends at 2,632 games

NOTHING IN baseball is eternal. Not Roger Maris' home run record, pulverised in 1998 by Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa. Not the failure of the hapless Chicago Cubs to put together a winning team (they might even make the play-offs this year). And now not even the Ripken streak.

One of the most remarkable achievements in any sport came to an end on Sunday evening in Baltimore. After playing 2,632 consecutive games for the Baltimore Orioles, Cal Ripken finally sat one out. Not because he was dropped, not because he was injured, but because he wanted to.

The last game Ripken didn't play for the Orioles was on 29 May, 1982 - when British forces were recapturing the Falklands Islands from Argentina. Since then he has become sport's ultimate iron man, compiling a record that probably will never be beaten.

At the very least, assuming the Major League Baseball schedule stays at 162 games a season, it will survive more than 14 years. The longest current streak now belongs to Albert Belle, of the Chicago White Sox. If he somehow were to keep going, Belle would surpass Ripken in early May 2013. Pre-Ripken the longest streak belonged to Lou Gehrig, the legendary "Iron Horse" of the New York Yankees, who played 2,130 straight games between 1927 and 1939.

Doubtless deliberately, as it was a Yankees star whom he dethroned, it was against the Yankees that Ripken chose to call it quits on Sunday, in Baltimore's last home game of the season.

When it was clear that Ripken would not be coming up to bat, the Yankee players clustered at the top step of the Orioles dug-out to applaud him. As the stadium erupted the 38-year-old third baseman came out and bowed to the 48,000 fans.

Ripken, however, will not be idle for long. "I don't feel much different," he said. "Now that I know what it feels like, I don't want to sit and watch a game anymore." Accordingly, he was due to be back in the Orioles' line-up against the Toronto Blue Jays last night - with a new streak of one and counting.

But if Ripken took a break on Sunday, Mark McGwire did not. The St Louis Cardinals slugger belted his 65th home run of the season in Milwaukee and his third in five days. The blast put him four clear of Maris' 1961 record, and two ahead of Sammy Sosa, of the Cubs, with six games of the regular season left to play.

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