Ichiro inside-the-park HR sets stage as AL blasts overshadow Bonds, NL
SAN FRANCISCO -- A party favor for Barry Bonds? Not quite.
Josh Beckett kept Bonds in the house -- barely -- and the American League made it 10 straight wins (tie not included) over the National League -- barely -- surviving the Nationals' two-run rally in the bottom of the ninth last night to win the 78th All-Star Game, 5-4, on Bonds's home turf, AT&T Park.
It wasn't quite as strange as pitcher Stu Miller being blown off the mound in Candlestick Park when the game was held here in 1961, but a wacky carom off the padded wall in right-center field was the catalyst to the first inside-the-park home run in All-Star history, by Ichiro Suzuki of the Seattle Mariners in the fifth. Suzuki, who reportedly came to terms on a contract extension over the break, circled the bases after the ball bounced past right fielder Ken Griffey Jr., who overthrew the cutoff man, allowing Suzuki to score standing up.
Suzuki's homer, which came with Brian Roberts aboard on a walk, gave the AL a 3-1 lead and was his third hit of the game, making him a landslide choice as the game's Most Valuable Player and belying his image as a singles hitter.
"He probably hit more home runs in batting practice than anybody else on the field, and he made it look like nothing," said AL manager Jim Leyland. "It was unbelievable.
"I'm not too happy about that. We have to play him on Thursday. That's who we [the Tigers] open up against."
The NL cut the lead to 3-2 in the bottom of the sixth when Carlos Beltran of the Mets tripled and scored on a sacrifice fly by Griffey, who also knocked in the NL's first run in the first, singling home Mets shortstop Jose Reyes, who had singled and stolen second.
But Red Sox third baseman Mike Lowell, who had entered the game as a defensive replacement in the sixth, opened the eighth with a single off Mets lefthander Billy Wagner, and scored ahead of a home run by Indians catcher Victor Martinez, added to the team by Leyland independent of the fans' or players' balloting.
Martinez's homer proved the difference-maker, as Dmitri Young of the Nationals scratched a two-out infield hit and Alfonso Soriano of the Cubs lined a two-run homer off Mariners closer J.J. Putz, Leyland's choice to close out the NL in the ninth, to draw the NL within a run. Soriano's homer was his third as an All-Star. He joins Hall of Famer Frank Robinson, who managed him last season in Washington, as the only players to homer for each league, and Soriano became the first player to hit an All-Star home run while wearing the uniform of three different teams -- the Yankees, Rangers, and Cubs.
When Putz walked the next batter, J.J. Hardy of the Brewers, Leyland reluctantly summoned Angels closer Francisco Rodriguez, who had the crowd of 43,965 roaring when he walked Derrek Lee of the Cubs and Orlando Hudson of the Diamondbacks to load the bases.
Bonds, had he gone nine, would have been the next batter. But he came out after lining to the warning track in left against Beckett in the third. In his place was Aaron Rowand of the Phillies, a first-time All-Star and a somewhat controversial choice by NL manager Tony La Russa. Rowand took a 95-mile-per-hour fastball for a strike, then hit the next pitch in the air to right, where Alex Rios of the Blue Jays caught it for the final out.
"I didn't enjoy that," said Leyland, who used the occasion to lobby for the use of the DH in future All-Star Games, saying all the double-switches he made was exhausting.
Bonds, who escorted his godfather, Hall of Famer Willie Mays, onto the field in a moving pregame ceremony, batted twice before calling it a night. He flied to right against AL starter Dan Haren, then faced Beckett, who had started the third by giving up a weird double to Reyes, whose ball went bizarro on third baseman Alex Rodriguez, taking a sharp left turn as Rodriguez prepared to glove it.
"He hit the ball off the end of his bat," Beckett said. "There was an unbelievable amount of spin on that ball. It was crazy."
Bonds, who had high-fived fans lined up along the players' red-carpeted route into the ballpark, was the next batter, a classic matchup of power vs. power. Beckett was asked if his intention was to go strength to strength, and if Bonds got him, so be it.
"I wanted to get him out," Beckett said. "My first pitch was a changeup, then I threw him two fastballs."
Bonds hit it on a line to left, where Magglio Ordonez drifted back and caught the ball on the track.
"I thought it had a chance," said Ortiz, who played first base in the National League park. "But man, there's something wrong with this place. You hit the ball hard here, it doesn't go anywhere."
Jonathan Papelbon became the fifth Sox player to appear in the game when he entered in the eighth. He gave up a bloop single to the first batter he faced, Lee, but set down the next three in order, Hudson and Rowand on strikes and Freddy Sanchez of the Pirates on a fly to center.
The only Sox player not to see action was Japanese lefthander Hideki Okajima, who was here as the AL's 32d man on the strength of Internet balloting. Beckett got the win with his two scoreless innings, Ortiz reached on an error and lined out, and Manny Ramírez pinch hit and flied to right.
Bonds, who came out of the game in the top of the fourth, to the chagrin of the numerous Bonds partisans who gave him repeated ovations, claimed his initial thought was to bunt Reyes to third, which would have confounded 63 other All-Stars had he done so.
"I wanted to try to just get him over," Bonds said with a straight face. "It was weird hitting second. I'm thinking, 'I've just got to get the guy over. I'm not used to that.'
"After that, I just said, 'Forget it, I'm going to swing.' He threw the pitch and I hit it pretty good, but I didn't hit it good enough."