SAN FRANCISCO (AP) – On a night of tricky hops, Ichiro Suzuki and the American League also bounced back to win.
Instead of a Barry Bonds splash shot, the defining hit at Tuesday’s All-Star game was Suzuki’s inside-the-park home run, the first in the game’s history.
Suzuki lined a go-ahead, two-run drive off the right-field wall in the fifth inning, Carl Crawford and Victor Martinez later hit conventional shots and the Americans made it 10 straight over Nationals, holding on for a 5-4 victory.
“When I first hit it, I thought I hit it out of here,” Suzuki said through a translator, “but it was still an inside-the-park home run.”
That wasn’t the only drama.
After Alfonso Soriano’s two-out, two-run homer in the ninth, the NL loaded the bases on three walks before Angels closer Francisco Rodriguez retired Aaron Rowand on a routine fly to right for a save.
Willie Mays, Bonds’ godfather, was honored with a touching tribute before the game. In the Say Hey Kid’s day, the NL ruled All-Star games but not anymore. The AL closed to 40-36-2 and improved to 5-0 since the All-Star winner received homefield advantage in the World Series.
In a decade of dominance, the notorious 2002 tie at Milwaukee was all that interrupted the AL’s run. The only longer streak was when the NL took 11 in a row from 1972-82.
Soriano made it close with his homer off Seattle closer J.J. Putz, who then walked J.J. Hardy. Rodriguez relieved and walked Derrek Lee on a full count – AL manager Jim Leyland screamed at first-base umpire Charlie Reliford about a check swing. A walk to Orlando Hudson loaded the bases before Rowand’s fly ended it.
Suzuki, on the verge of a large contract extension from the Mariners, got three hits and was the game’s MVP.
Fans had waited in kayaks out in McCovey Cove beyond right field in vain for some shots into the water – no souvenirs found their way into the chilly bay.
Bonds, the center of attention in the days before the game, had a quiet night. He flied to right field in the first, hit an opposite-field shot to the left-field warning track in the third, then departed at the top of the fourth.
He received a huge ovation after he came out on the red carpet during the pregame introductions and bowed three times to his adoring hometown fans. Hitting in the No. 2 spot – his last regular-season appearance in that slot was 20 years ago – he even faked a bunt on the first pitch of his second at-bat.
“There’s too many emotions to be able to explain it,” he said. “This is my family who I grew up for a lot of years. All I can do is say thank you.”
His chase for Hank Aaron’s home-run record resumes later this week, and the scrutiny will return. But for a night, the swirl of steroids speculation lifted along with the San Francisco fog.
Ken Griffey Jr., perhaps the closest to a latter-day Mays baseball has seen, drove in two runs for the NL with a first-inning single and a sixth-inning sacrifice fly.
AT&T Park, which opened in 2000, is the most picturesque park in the majors. With asymmetrical dimensions, uneven walls and sometimes difficult winds, it can be a difficult place to play. On this night, there was even an infield double by the Mets’ Jose Reyes, a ball that hit the lip of the grass and veered away from Alex Rodriguez at third.
Boston’s Josh Beckett got the win, and San Diego’s Chris Young – who gave up Suzuki’s homer – was the loser.
Young entered to start the fifth and walked his first batter, Brian Roberts. One out later, Suzuki reached down and golfed a ball to right-center field. It hit off an All-Star ad in an area known as the arcade and instead of bouncing straight back, it kicked toward right field.
Suzuki was at third by the time Griffey got to the ball and easily sped home for the first inside-the-park homer of his major league career – since joining the majors in 2001, he had never hit one in the regular season or playoffs. An All-Star every season he’s played in the majors, his homer put the AL ahead 2-1.
“Man, that was fun,” Cleveland pitcher C.C. Sabathia said.
Before a ballpark record crowd of 43,965 on an overcast evening, Mays was honored for being perhaps the greatest five-tool player in the sport’s history. After the All-Stars were introduced, he walked in from center field, flanked by Bonds and Derek Jeter, between two rows of the assembled players.
The tribute was similar – but less emotional – than 1999’s ceremony honoring Ted Williams at Boston’s Fenway Park.
With a picture of his famous 1954 World Series catch projected behind him on the center-field “batter’s eye,” Mays acknowledged the cheers and threw a ceremonial first pitch to Reyes. Mays got in a pink 1958 Cadillac Eldorado convertible near second base, then did a loop past first base, behind the plate and on to third base, throwing baseballs into the stands. Mays, now 76, appeared in a record-tying 24 All-Star games and bridged the move of the Giants franchise from New York to the West Coast.
Reyes, whose 46 steals lead the majors, opened the bottom of the first with a single up the middle, stole second on Dan Haren’s second pitch to Bonds and came around when Griffey lined a two-out pitch high off the mound and into center.
Junior was the star again in the fourth, after Alex Rodriguez singled and stole second. Ivan Rodriguez hit a two-out single to right and Griffey threw a one-hop strike to the plate.
While Pete Rose may have bowled over Ray Fosse to win the 1970 game in Cincinnati, it’s a different era these days. A-Rod, knowing he was out by 10 feet, pulled up as catcher Russell Martin tagged him out.
Crawford connected with two outs in the sixth against Francisco Cordero. The drive was a little to the center-field side of Suzuki’s shot, about 20 feet from the sign that totals Bonds’ homers, currently 751. A fan appeared to reach over the 19-foot brick wall and gather up the ball.
Griffey drove in the NL’s second run with a sacrifice fly in the bottom half against Justin Verlander after Carlos Beltran nearly duplicated Suzuki’s shot off the wall but was held to a triple by Vladimir Guerrero.
Martinez hit the 18th pinch homer in All-Star history, an eighth-inning drive to left off Mets closer Billy Wagner.
Notes: The AL and NL began the night tied with 326 runs each in All-Star play. … There have been two inside-the-parkers in the ballpark: by Fernando Vina on May 9, 2000, and Dustan Mohr on Aug. 4, 2004. … Young pitched the fifth inning and made pickoff throws to Cubs 1B Lee. The pair were suspended for brawling at Wrigley Field on June 16 after Young hit Lee with a pitch. … Jeter was 1-for-3, leaving him at 8-for-16 in All-Star play.