MVP Ichiro hits All-Star Game's First Inside-the-Park Homer

By: Associated Press
By: Associated Press

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) -- Ichiro Suzuki sped around the bases as the ball bounced away from Ken Griffey Jr. for the first inside-the-park home run in All-Star game history. On a night of tricky hops, Suzuki and the American League rebounded to win -- as usual.

Instead of a Barry Bonds splash shot, the defining hit at Tuesday's All-Star game was Suzuki's drive off the right-field wall at quirky AT&T Park.

His two-run homer in the fifth inning put the AL ahead, then Carl Crawford and Victor Martinez added conventional shots and the Americans held on for a 5-4 victory over the Nationals.

"I thought it was going to go over the fence," Suzuki said through a translator. "When it didn't, I was really bummed."

In a decade of dominance, the AL has won 10 straight games played to a decision, with the notorious 2002 tie at Milwaukee interrupting the run. The only longer streak was when the NL took 11 in a row from 1972-82.

"We're tired of losing always," the Chicago Cubs' Derrek Lee said. "We just want to win one and put all of this to rest."

Suzuki's home run ball -- smudged with green and red and signed by the Japanese star -- immediately was handed over to the Hall of Fame.

"He's an artist with that bat," NL manager Tony La Russa said.

That wasn't the only drama.

Alfonso Soriano hit a two-out, two-run homer in the ninth that made it 5-4, and the NL loaded the bases on three walks. Angels closer Francisco Rodriguez then retired Aaron Rowand on a routine fly to right for a save.

"I didn't enjoy it a bit," said AL manager Jim Leyland, so competitive that he screamed at an umpire in the ninth.

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.

"Nobody wants to lose," Griffey said.

Soriano, who joined Frank Robinson as the only player to hit All-Star homers with each league, connected off Seattle closer J.J. Putz, who then walked J.J. Hardy. Rodriguez relieved and walked Lee on a full count -- 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.

"I just missed it, just missed it," Rowand said. "I was trying to hit a line drive somewhere, score a couple of runs. I just missed hitting that ball off or over that fence."

Suzuki, on the verge of a large contract extension from the Mariners, had been 3-for-15 in All-Star play coming in. He got three hits, was the game's MVP and will be remembered for his strange shot, unfamiliar even to ballpark regulars such as Bonds.

"He came up to me and said I've never seen that happen before," Griffey said.

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 warning track in left 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.

Griffey, 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.

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.

"It just hit the corner and bounced the other way," Griffey said. "I tried to make a good throw to the cutoff man and hoped that he would fall down."

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.

Second in the majors with a ,359 average, Suzuki joked about his power.

"If I'm allowed to hit .220, I could probably hit 40," he said, "but nobody wants that."

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.

Griffey was the early star. He put the NL ahead with an RBI single in the first off Dan Haren, then threw out Alex Rodriguez trying to score from second in the fourth on Ivan Rodriguez's single.

Crawford homered with two outs in the sixth against Francisco Cordero to make it 3-1. The ball went 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 brick wall, about 19 feet high, 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, a two-run drive in the eight off Mets closer Billy Wagner.

Bonds didn't seem to mind that he wasn't the hero.

"It was fabulous. It was great," he said. "Another chapter to my career."

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press


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