The streak had to end eventually. Even Cal Ripken Jr.'s streak came to an end. After 31 consecutive quarters of double-digit sales growth, Stryker (NYSE:SYK) finally had an off quarter.

Stryker wasn't alone; the fourth quarter was hard on many medical device makers. Previous high-growers like Intuitive Surgical (NASDAQ:ISRG), Natus Medical (NASDAQ:BABY), and Hologic (NASDAQ:HOLX) all got knocked back down to earth.

Revenue came in just 3.6% higher than the year-ago quarter. Sales of orthopaedic implants grew at 4.2% -- fairly consistent with Johnson & Johnson's (NYSE:JNJ) Depuy division, which managed a 3.6% increase last quarter. Both were hurt by the stronger dollar knocking down international sales, which doesn't bode well for Zimmer (NYSE:ZMH) and Smith & Nephew (NYSE:SNN), both of which derive around half of their sales from outside the U.S.

Sales of the normally prolific medical and surgical equipment division grew even slower at just 2.8% year over year. Hospitals just aren't interested in spending money on capital expenses when their own endowments have been hurt by this funky market.

Don't expect those double-digit growth rates to come back anytime soon. Stryker is guiding for a 6% to 9% increase in sales this year. Fortunately management thinks it should be able to squeak more out of the bottom line with estimated earnings per share of $3.12 to $3.22, an increase of 10% to 14% over 2008 after subtracting out restructuring charges.

The days of crazy growth at Stryker are over, but the company is also a lot cheaper, 40% off its 52-week high. Just like the Yankees will one day win the World Series again, I think it's likely that Stryker will get back to starting a new streak fairly soon.

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Natus Medical is a Motley Fool Hidden Gems pick. Johnson & Johnson is an Income Investor recommendation. Intuitive Surgical is a Rule Breakers selection. The Fool owns shares of Stryker. Try any of our Foolish newsletters today, free for 30 days.

Fool contributor Brian Orelli, Ph.D., can't wait until pitchers and catchers report for duty next month. He doesn't own shares of any company mentioned in this article. The Fool's disclosure policy has a long track record of being mentioned at the end of Motley Fool articles.