All-star pitchers a big hit for AL


July 15, 1992|By JOHN EISENBERG

SAN DIEGO -- You knew the game was over when the pitcher had to bat in the top of the first, which was a beautiful sight.

Not beautiful because it meant the American League was going to win the All-Star Game for the fifth straight year. That wasn't so important, was it?

Beautiful because no one could remember the last time an All-Star batter resembled a 65-year-old just learning to swing a tennis racket.

It was not quite Dan Quayle at the spelling bee, but what do you want from a sport in which the commissioner is moping around saying, "I don't know, things just look so bleak."

Besides, these were the only other interesting moments in the Americans' 13-6 win, in which both teams missed an extra point:

* Watching for National manager Bobby Cox to try to invoke the 10-run rule when he went to the mound to change pitchers in the sixth with the scoreboard briefly stopped at 10-zip.

* The airplane that flew over Jack Murphy Stadium in the fifth with a banner saying: "Fay, is Lake Edna in the NL East or NL West?"

* Watching the outfield fence almost collapse when Phillies outfielder John Kruk, the male Roseanne, ran into it chasing a line drive in the seventh. (The first words out of Kruk's mouth when he walked into the National clubhouse the day before were, and this is a true story, "Where's the cafeteria?")

Yes, it was that kind of All-Star Game, more or less a replay of the Super Bowl that was played in Jack Murphy Stadium four years ago, in which the Redskins eked it out over Denver, 42-10. If they ever hold a bullfight here, the bulls are in trouble.

Anyway, there wasn't much suspense left by the time the pitcher came to bat in the top of the first. The Americans had already scored four runs on seven straight singles off National starter Tom Glavine, who explained later that "they hit kind of a lot of wedge shots, broken bat shots that just fell in." Kind of setting an All-Star record for kind of the most hits in an inning.

The ninth batter scheduled in the inning was Kevin Brown, the American League's starting pitcher, winner of 14 games for the Rangers this year, and suddenly manager Tom Kelly had this weird decision: Should he hit for the pitcher before the pitcher had thrown a pitch?

It is an All-Star custom that pitchers never hit, of course. There are so many others waiting on the bench for a chance to play, or even just pinch hit. All they want is a chance. As Mickey Tettleton said after pinch-hitting in the 1989 All-Star Game, "It has never been more of an honor to strike out."

Oddly enough, Kelly and Brown had joked about this possibility the day before, Brown explaining that he planned to "hit some rockets in batting practice" to convince the manager of his skill. No one really thought it would come to this with Glavine pitching, naturally, but that was before the seven consecutive "wedge shots." And there was never a doubt Brown would get his swings, of course. The starting pitcher usually gets to pitch.

So Brown grabbed his bat and walked up there, getting a chance to bat for only the second time since he signed a pro contract out of Georgia Tech in 1986. The other time was during a blowout in 1990. He grounded out.

This time was a little different. This time there were an estimated 100 million people watching in 59 countries around the world. (Even France, where, no doubt, many viewers thought Brown's plate appearance was perhaps a scene from a "zany" Jerry Lewis comedy that had somehow been edited in.)

Glavine's first pitch was a ball, leading to speculation that, should he walk Brown, he would retire on the spot. But one look at Brown told you Glavine was going to get through it. He was, in the words of Ken Griffey Jr., "real shaky." Standing there stiff-legged, as if his only thought was, "If one of these things gets within five feet of me, I'm bailin'."

Glavine then threw a fastball and Brown swung and missed -- only by about six feet. The next two pitches were carbon copies, although Brown did close the gap to two feet by strike three.

Anyway, from there the Americans built a huge lead, and Indians pitcher Charles Nagy also had to bat -- and got a hit! And then the Nationals tried to make a late rally, but in the end they ran out of players and darn if Cincinnati pitcher Norm Charlton didn't have to bat with the bases loaded and two outs in the bottom of ninth. He also did the funky chicken and struck out, and never has there been a more eloquent argument for the death of the designated hitter. can't you see the ad campaign? "Baseball: What yuks."

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