TORONTO -- At the end of his incredible two-day display of power under the glare of the All-Star spotlight, Cal Ripken had to turn down a flattering request.
It came from Howard Talbott, president of baseball's Hall of Fame. "Cal, I'd like to take something back with me to put on display tomorrow," said Talbott. "Would it be possible to get your bat?"
Ripken looked up, giving the question some thought. The look on his face was what you might expect if he was told to take a day off. A player doesn't turn down Cooperstown very often, even for a display item.
The bat in question had delivered the three-run home run that propelled the American League to a 4-2 win over the National League and enabled Ripken to win the game's MVP award. However, this wasn't the first home run that black bat had delivered -- and Ripken, who had kept it out of the home run derby of the day before -- is hoping it won't be the last.
"I've been using that bat for almost a month," Ripken told Talbott. "It's not in very good shape, but I'd hate to let it go right now."
He didn't say no, but it was obvious that Ripken didn't relish the idea of giving up his favorite piece of lumber. "Now I know how George Brett felt about giving up his pine tar bat," said Ripken.
"How about my hat and my spikes -- and I'll send the bat to you when it's worn out?" Ripken asked Talbott.
It was a done deal. The black bomber will stay around a while longer. And Ripken will get his first ever display at Cooperstown -- but certainly not his last.
Ripken's home run last night capped an almost unbelievablAll-Star performance. The day before he put on an awesome show during a home-run hitting contest, slamming 12 balls over the fence, five more than all four of the National League representatives.
Then he drilled a single in his first at-bat last night, followed thawith a 416-foot, three-run homer two innings later -- and even hit a rocket in his last at-bat that resulted in a force out.
"I don't know how to explain it -- it just seems like everything went right here these two days," said Ripken, who did not have an RBI in his eight previous All-Star appearances. "I was concerned about getting in the home run derby, because you can get yourself into bad habits. But I've been swinging the bat pretty good, and I guess it just carried over."
Ripken's performance in the last two days left some of hiAmerican League teammates in awe. "It's his world, the rest of us are just passing through," said Red Sox third baseman Wade Boggs.
"Cal really smoked that [home run] ball," said Cecil Fielder, thAmerican League's reigning king of clout. "Rip is hot, I don't care if it's an All-Star Game, a home run-hitting contest, or a regular game -- he's hot.
"I hope he stays that way," said Fielder, "because he's having aMVP-type season."
In the National League clubhouse, Dennis Martinez, who serveup Ripken's home run and took the loss, applauded his former teammate.
"He hit a hanging slider," said Martinez. "It was right where hlikes it -- and I think he was looking for it, too.
"I've gotten him out with the slider before, in exhibition gameand last year in the All-Star Game. He told me he just missed the pitch last year."
Ripken grounded out to third as the first hitter Martinez faced iAll-Star competition last year. Last night he didn't miss.
"To tell you the truth, I wasn't looking for anything," said Ripken. "It was one of those times I just told myself 'look for the ball and hit it.' It was a breaking pitch, but I wasn't looking for it."
The latest victory was the fourth in a row, fifth in the last six years and sixth in the last nine tries for the American League, which before 1983 had lost 11 in a row and 19 out of 20.
Several of the players, including Boggs and White Sox catcher Carlton Fisk, credit a new approach for the AL's success. "I'm not going to say we have a better league," said Boggs, "but the enthusiasm in this clubhouse is amazing.
"We do the little things, we play execution baseball. Everybody would like to come out and hit 400- and 500-foot home runs, but we still play baseball. That's [Oakland manager] Tony La Russa's style -- and he reminded us of it in the meeting we had before the workout."
Fisk, who hasn't always been on the best of terms with his former manager, also gave a lot of credit to La Russa. "This is the first time I've been here in four or five years," he said, "and I do know that a lot of our guys came to play. It's a nice social event, but this time around the clubhouse was a little more intent about the game.
"I think the manager over the last four years has made the difference as far as how the players motivate themselves," said Fisk. "Each player comes here with the intention of playing the game the way they had been during the year.
"They don't come free-lancing the game, and basically just show up. I'd say Tony La Russa has a lot to do with how the players prepare for this game."
La Russa, who prides himself on preparation, sidestepped the accolades of the veteran players, and gave Minnesota manager Tom Kelly, one of his coaches this year, a lot of the credit for the American League's apparently revamped attitude toward this game.
"We talked about it [a winning attitude] in the clubhouse," said La Russa. "I borrowed it from Tom Kelly in the 1988 game [which Kelly managed]. We had a great win and we talked about it. We're great friends and one thing he stressed was that we play this like a baseball game and not like an exhibition game."
For Cal Ripken, the entire All-Star show was an exhibition. A rather awesome one at that, one that left many of his peers buzzing.
"Tell him to keep it up and get the Orioles up there in the standings," said Martinez.
"He's one of the top players in the game," said National League manager Lou Piniella. "I don't know how he keeps going. He plays a position where you could get hurt, but he stays healthy. He's very durable, he hits, he hits with power and right now, obviously, he's on top of his game."
Which may be the most compelling reason to keep tabs on the Orioles during the second half of the season.