TORONTO -- Baltimore Orioles shortstop Cal Ripken is having a season to remember, even if the rest of his team is not.
He certainly had a blast last night, highlighting the best first-half performance of his career with a towering three-run home run to lead the American League to a 4-2 victory in the 62nd All-Star Game.
Ripken rocked SkyDome for two straight days. He stole most of the thunder in Monday's home run derby, sending 12 shots to the outer limits of Toronto's space-age stadium. Last night, he brought the American League from behind with a third-inning shot off former teammate Dennis Martinez to send the National League to its fourth straight All-Star defeat. There was no other candidate for the game's Most Valuable Player Award.
"I've been swinging the bat very well of late, and I think that was the key -- coming into the game hot," said Ripken, who also had a single in three at-bats. "I hit the ball very hard tonight, and I was pretty sure the home run was out. I've usually hit the ball very well at SkyDome."
The home run was the fourth by an Oriole in All-Star competition and the first since Ken Singleton took Tom Seaver deep in the 1981 midseason classic at Cleveland Stadium. Brooks Robinson (1967) and Frank Robinson (1971) had the other two. Ripken became the third AL shortstop to homer in an All- Star Game.
The sellout crowd of 52,383 got to see what Orioles fans have been watching all season. Ripken reached the halfway point in the season leading the league with a .348 batting average and ranked among the league leaders in almost every relevant offensive category.
His first All-Star homer came at the expense of a pitcher who played with him for five seasons in Baltimore, but Ripken figured to face at least one ex-Orioles pitcher. Three of them appeared in the game for the National League.
Pete Harnisch pitched a scoreless sixth and Mike Morgan worked a perfect eighth, but it was the American League pitching staff that dominated the game for the fourth time in the past five years.
It was an all-Canada decision. Hometown hero Jimmy Key got the victory. Martinez, a Montreal Expo for the time being, took the defeat. Oakland Athletics stopper Dennis Eckersley pitched a hitless ninth to earn a record-setting third All-Star save.
The National League entered the game with 10 consecutive scoreless innings and had not put together a really solid offensive performance since the 1985 All-Star Game at the Metrodome in Minneapolis. But it looked for a time like that might change last night.
Three of the first four NL batters hit safely against starter Jack Morris and Bobby Bonilla sent the Minnesota Twins pitcher to the hospital with a shot back up the middle.
The ball hit Morris on the outside of the right foot and caromed away to drive in a run. Morris stayed in the game and pitched through the second inning before he left to undergo X-rays. They proved negative, but he suffered enough of a bruise to leave his next regular-season start in doubt.
NL starter Tom Glavine gave up just one hit over two innings, but had to strike out Cecil Fielder and Danny Tartabull to get out of a two-on, one-out situation in the first inning. He retired the side in order in the second before giving way to Martinez.
The former Orioles starter got the first out of the third before giving up back-to-back singles to Rickey Henderson and Wade Boggs to bring Ripken to the plate.
No doubt, Martinez saw the way Ripken had rattled the rafters during Monday's home run derby, but he hung a curveball and paid dearly for it. The ball traveled 416 feet and landed in the bleachers behind left-center field.
"I hit a breaking ball out of the ballpark," Ripken said. "To be honest, I wasn't looking for it. I was just trying to tell myself to relax and get a good pitch to hit. I'd like to say I was looking for a breaking ball, but I just saw the ball well and hit it well."
He had expressed concern on Monday that the home run contest at the All-Star workout might have an adverse affect on his hitting mechanics, but it may have done just the opposite.
"Ordinarily, you can get into bad habits trying to hit home runs in batting practice," he said. "But in hindsight, the home run derby turned out really well. It helped me relax a little for the game."
Ripken became the fourth Oriole to win MVP honors in an All-Star Game. Pitcher Billy O'Dell was the MVP of the 1958 game, which was played at Memorial Stadium. Brooks Robinson was MVP in 1966 even though the American League lost the game and Frank Robinson won in 1971.
"Ripken has had that kind of first half on top of a great career," AL manager Tony La Russa said. "He's playing so well, seeing the ball so well. It was a perfect match. He's a great player and he's having a great year, so what do they do in games like this? They do great things."
It was the first All-Star home run by an American League shortstop since Dick McAuliffe hit one in 1965. The only other AL shortstop to homer was Lou Boudreau in 1942.