CHICAGO, JULY 11 -- As a native of Chicago Heights, Ill., and a childhood Cubs fan, Kansas City Royals pitcher Bret Saberhagen is in a position to know that night baseball at Wrigley Field "maybe just wasn't meant to be."
As Tuesday night became Wednesday morning here, it was hard to argue, as a pair of rain delays and a stiff breeze blowing in from left field helped to make the American League's 2-0 victory in the 61st All-Star Game a lackluster affair.
Saberhagen and five other AL pitchers allowed just two hits overall and Texas Rangers second baseman Julio Franco drove in the game's only runs with the lone extra-base hit, a double off the Reds' Rob Dibble with none out in the seventh. Franco was named the game's most valuable player.
The NL's two hits -- a soft liner in the first by the Giants' Will Clark and a hard grounder in the ninth by the Phillies' Len Dykstra -- were the fewest by one team in any all-star game. The previous low was three, set in 1940 by the AL and tied three times, most recently in 1968 by the AL.
The totals of nine hits and one extra-base hit were one away from the all-star records for fewest in a game. The teams scored eight hits in 1968, and have not been in single digits since. There were no extra-base hits in 1958.
In addition, this game remained scoreless longer than any all-star game but one -- the 1987 affair that went 12 innings before the NL won in the 13th, 2-0.
And to think, Saberhagen said, "We have even better pitching than what you saw tonight. We had guys we didn't use, and guys like Mike Boddicker and Dave Stewart weren't even on the team. We could have gone on and on."
Perhaps. But enough was enough, especially after the game was delayed 17 minutes at the start and 68 minutes in the top of the seventh. This same sort of thing happened the night of Aug. 8, 1988, when the lights that enabled Wrigley to host this All-Star Game were first lit. After 3 1/2 innings, a deluge forced the Cubs to wait until Aug. 9 before playing their first official home night game.
After Tuesday night's second delay, which ended after 11 p.m. CDT, large blocks of seats went unoccupied -- even in the bleachers. One can only imagine what happened to the national television audience. CBS, telecasting the all-star game for the first time, allowed affiliates to break for late local news and showed "Rescue 911" (several players said viewing the latter was how they kept occupied while waiting for play to resume).
Poor Fay Vincent. As deputy commissioner, he helped oversee the investigation that brought down Pete Rose. He became commissioner after the man who hired him, his good friend Bart Giamatti, passed away. And his reign as commissioner is becoming one continuous crisis. In less than a year, he has had to deal with an earthquake-interrupted World Series, a bitter labor negotiation that led to a season-delaying lockout of the players, and Yankees owner George Steinbrenner's relationships with self-described gambler Howard Spira and former Yankees outfielder Dave Winfield. Now this.
Not that Tuesday night's game didn't have its moments. One was NL Manager Roger Craig of the Giants ordering intentional walks to get to Athletics outfielder Jose Canseco and Tigers first baseman Cecil Fielder, both of whom made outs.
In the seventh, Mets right fielder Darryl Strawberry caught Canseco's fly ball and threw out Franco at the plate. In the eighth, Strawberry fell while chasing a line-drive single by the Twins' Kirby Puckett, a Chicago native who raced to third as the ball rolled to the wall. Blue Jays third baseman Kelly Gruber stole two bases to tie Willie Mays's single-game record.
But it was a night dominated by the weather, which enabled the pitchers to do their thing. Athletics reliever Dennis Eckersley, a former Cub who earned the save Tuesday night, said if the wind had been blowing out "we would have had to pitch more carefully."
Instead starter Bob Welch of the Athletics, the Blue Jays' Dave Stieb, Saberhagen, the White Sox' Bobby Thigpen and the Angels' Chuck Finley just fired away. Stieb made his seventh all-star appearance, tying Early Wynn for the most by an AL pitcher, and threw two innings to lower his career all-star ERA to 0.77 (one run in 11 2/3 innings).
Their work paid off in the seventh, when the game-winning rally was interrupted by rain. With the Giants' Jeff Brantley on the mound and showers beginning, Indians catcher Sandy Alomar started the inning with an infield single. Angels catcher Lance Parrish followed with a hit-and-run single that sent Alomar to third.
Franco didn't get a chance to see a pitch from Brantley, who could not get loosened up after the tarpaulin was removed from the field.
Enter Dibble, the 6-foot-4, 235-pound member of Cincinnati's Nasty Boys trio. He is almost all arms and legs, delivering pitches in excess of 95 mph.
Franco, who had never seen Dibble before, said: "I watched him throw his warm-up pitches and tried to study his arm motion. I knew I'd have to be quick."
He swung and missed on the first pitch, but fouled off the second. Dibble said the third pitch was supposed to be up and in. Instead, he said, "it was right down the middle of the plate, right down Broadway."
Franco swatted it up the right-center field gap. Alomar trotted home. The ball rolled to the wall, so Parrish lumbered around as well.
The AL had its third consecutive all-star victory, its most in a row since winning four straight from 1946 to 1949. The junior circuit now has won four of the last five games and five of eight since the NL's remarkable run of 11 straight victories and 19 in 20 games from 1963 to 1982.
"There's been a new breed of players in the AL over the years," said Orioles shortstop Cal Ripken, who made his eighth straight all-star appearance and seventh consecutive start. "Most of us weren't around when the NL was winning all those games, so it doesn't really affect us."