Cal Ripken Jr.'s career-long calling card has been consistency, highlighted by his nine-year streak of 1,491 consecutive games played. But this season Ripken has sent a powerful message that he can deliver the exciting home run as well. His 18 home runs for the Baltimore Orioles are the most by a shortstop at the All-Star break in more than 20 years. His 12 home runs in 22 swings in Monday's All-Star power exhibition were amazing.
Tuesday night, he cracked a three-run home run in the third inning to stake the American League to a 4-2 victory over the National League in front of a crowd of 52,383 at the SkyDome in the 62nd All-Star Game.
The AL won for the fourth straight time, fifth in the last six and sixth in the last eight. It is the AL's longest winning streak since 1946-49. The NL still leads the series 37-24-1.
Toronto's Jimmy Key, who pitched one inning in relief of Minnesota's Jack Morris, was the winning pitcher. Oakland's Dennis Eckersley pitched the ninth inning for a save. Montreal's Dennis Martinez was the loser.
Ripken's career has been a tremendous one, but he was criticized heavily last year when he was struggling to bat above .200 into June. Many thought the consecutive games streak was wearing him down and sapping him of productivity. He finished the season with a .250 average, 21 home runs and 84 RBI.
This season, Ripken has quashed any such talk with a tremendous offensive performance, which could be his best yet. He is batting an AL-best .348, the first shortstop to lead a league in hitting at the break since Cleveland's Lou Boudreau in 1947; has 18 home runs, most for a shortstop since Boston's Rico Petrocelli hit 23 in 1969; and has 54 RBI.
Usually reluctant to participate in home-run hitting contests, Ripken was the talk of Toronto on Monday after hitting 12 homers _ including eight in a row at one point.
Tuesday's blast came off Montreal's Dennis Martinez with the AL trailing 1-0.
Oakland's Rickey Henderson opened the inning with a hard single to centerfield. He was running on the pitch when Boston's Wade Boggs hit a sharp grounder up the middle. Second baseman Ryne Sandberg gloved the ball but threw late to first and the AL had runners on first and second.
Ripken drove a 2-1 curveball into the centerfield seats, a blast measured at 416 feet.
The AL added an insurance run in the seventh. Toronto's Joe Carter led off with a single to left, went to second when Paul Molitor was awarded base on catcher's interference, went to third on a sacrifice by Ozzie Guillen and scored on a sacrifice fly by Harold Baines.
The NL, under aggressive Reds manager Lou Piniella, got off to a running start. San Diego's Tony Gwynn, the majors' leading hitter, opened the game with a single to leftfield off Minnesota's Jack Morris. An out later, Gwynn took off for second and San Francisco's Will Clark delivered a single to right, allowing Gwynn to reach third. He scored when Pittsburgh's Bobby Bonilla drilled a ball back at the mound which struck Morris on the foot.
Morris was taken to an area hospital for X-rays but had only a bruise.
The NL tried the hit and run again in the second inning, but San Diego's Benito Santiago struck out as Montreal's Ivan Calderon stole third. He was stranded when St. Louis' Ozzie Smith lined to short.
The NL put a runner in scoring position for the third time when Chicago Ryne Sandberg doubled off Toronto's Jimmy Key with one out, the NL's first extra-base hit since the the 1987 game, when Tim Raines tripled in the winning run in the 13th inning. But Sandberg was stranded at second.
Having managed just one hit against NL starter Tom Glavine, of Atlanta, in the first two innings, the AL jumped on Martinez in the third with three straight hits, capped by Ripken's home run.
The NL narrowed the gap to 3-2 in the fourth inning, when Chicago's Andre Dawson greeted Boston's Roger Clemens with a leadoff homer to deep centerfield. The homer, measured at 434 feet, was the first for the NL in since Dale Murphy's 1984 blast, a span of 61 innings and 223 at-bats.
The National Leaguers threatened in the sixth against Chicago's Jack McDowell. San Francisco's Will Clark led off with a walk and Bonilla singled. St. Louis' Felix Jose hit a grounder to first base, and Bonilla was forced out at second with Clark taking third. Cincinnati's Paul O'Neill hit a tapper to first. Detroit's Cecil Fielder threw home to Chicago's Carlton Fisk, and he held onto the ball as Clark slid in hard. The inning ended when Howard Johnson fouled out.
The AL challenged in its half of the sixth when Ken Griffey Jr. singled with two outs and went to third on a bloop single by Carlton Fisk, but was stranded when Roberto Alomar flied to center. Fisk, at 43 years, 6 months, 13 days, became the oldest player to get an All-Star hit. Only three older players have participated _ Satchel Paige, Pete Rose and Carl Yastrzemski.