RONALD BLUM AP Baseball Writer SAN FRANCISCO
A home-run ball from the first All-Star game at AT&T Park is headed to the Hall of Fame not one soaked with water from San Francisco Bay, but one stained with red and green from the quirky ballpark’s fence and field. Ichiro Suzuki made it his night as much as Barry Bonds or Willie Mays did, hitting a one-of-a-kind home run that bounced around the outfield instead of plunking into McCovey Cove. Suzuki’s two-run drive off the rightfield wall the first inside-the-park home run in All-Star game history put the American League ahead in a 5-4 victory over the NL on Tuesday night that extended a decade of dominance. “I thought it was going to go over the fence,” Suzuki said through a translator. “When it didn’t, I was really bummed.” No splash homers in this one. Still, there were four home runs, with Carl Crawford and Victor Martinez adding conventional shots for the AL. 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 before Angels closer Francisco Rodriguez retired Aaron Rowand on a routine fly to right for a save. 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. The AL closed to 40-36-2 and improved to 5-0 since the All-Star winner received home-field advantage in the World Series. “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.” 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. Bonds, the center of attention, 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. 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. “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.” Suzuki, on the verge of a large contract extension from the Mariners, was 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,” said right fielder Ken Griffey Jr., who had to run down the ball. Griffey’s RBI single in the first had put the NL ahead, and he threw out Alex Rodriguez at the plate in the fourth. Then in the fifth, with Brian Roberts on first following a walk from loser Chris Young, 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 career he never hit one while playing in Japan, or since joining the majors in 2001. Second in the majors with a .359 average, the seven-time All-Star joked about his power. “If I’m allowed to hit .220, I could probably hit 40,” he said, “but nobody wants that.” Crawford homered with two outs in the sixth against Francisco Cordero to make it 3-1. 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. Soriano, who joined Frank Robinson as the only player to hit All-Star homers with each league, connected in the ninth off Seattle closer J.J. Putz, who then walked J.J. Hardy. Rodriguez relieved and walked 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. “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.” Notes: Boston’s Josh Beckett got the win. ... 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 Lee. The pair were suspended for brawling at Wrigley Field on June 16 after Young hit Lee with a pitch. ... After the game, a recording of Yankee Stadium public address announcer Bob Sheppard invited fans to next year’s game in New York.