SAN DIEGO -- By the end of last night's All-Star Game, things were actually starting to get interesting. Will Clark had rung up a three-run homer, hits were rattling all over the yard, and there it was, that storied matchup we all had come to see -- Dennis Eckersley with the ball, Norm Charlton with the bat.
On that perfectly absurd note, the American League closed out a 13-6 win that restored some of the appeal and reputation of this much-criticized event. "All in all," said the AL's Wade Boggs, "I'd say you can take this team to Barcelona."
It was strange and impressive and hilarious all at once, and a pretty fine time was had by all. It is, after all, a game of moments. And there were many, leading up to that improbable finish.
Atlanta's Tom Glavine took the mound for the National League, got the first batter, then gave up seven hits -- all singles, all in a row. It was Boggs, Kirby Puckett, Joe Carter and Mark McGwire (two RBI) to center field, Cal Ripken to right (making it 3-0), Ken Griffey Jr. to center (4-0) and Sandy Alomar Jr. to right. Realistically, if you added them all up, they might make one decent McGwire home run.
"I've been pounded out there before," said Glavine. "I've been hammered, just driven off the mound. But nothing like this. I mean, none of those balls were hit hard. They were knockin' down some pretty nice sand wedges out there. At one point, Benito [Santiago] and Terry [Pendleton] came up and said, 'Get somebody to hit the ball hard, will ya?' "
"I was out there for most of those balls," said center fielder Andy Van Slyke. "I thought they were having a closest-to-the-pin contest."
Glavine was finally chased in the second, after Carter's second RBI single made it 5-0. It was 10-0 by the middle of the sixth, at which point young Griffey had richly earned his MVP award with a long double and a tremendous two-run homer off the Cubs' Greg Maddux.
It's tough to really stand out in this kind of company, but Griffey truly made his mark. Many of the great left-handed hitters are magicians when it comes to the opposite field, but the type of hit that comes to mind (Keith Hernandez, Tony Oliva, Al Oliver) is a roaring double up the alley. Griffey's third-inning homer appeared to be gaining momentum when it hit the bleachers, way out in left-center.
"He's a very competitive kid, a talented kid, and he doesn't have a ceiling that I can see," said AL manager Tom Kelly. "What a future this guy has. When he starts absorbing everything that's going on, he's going to be a big-numbers kind of guy."
Indeed, that's the scary part. Ken Griffey Jr. is just 22 years old.
Going into the bottom of the ninth, the NL attack was pretty much a Will Clark production. His eighth-inning homer off the Twins' Rick Aguilera was the only real dent on the scorecard. And with two outs left, his team laughing along with a 13-4 lead, Kelly brought on Eckersley to apply the finishing touch.
It didn't quite work out as planned. Eckersley got one of the outs, but an error by first baseman Paul Molitor, Tony Fernandez's single and an infield hit by John Kruk loaded the bases for Bip Roberts, who drilled a two-run single to right.
"That was a situation where everybody was excited, pumped up," said Roberts. "Seven out of 10 times, he's gonna get me. But this time I got him. He's the best."
Then a funny thing happened. The National League ran out of players. Manager Bobby Cox had no choice but to send his pitcher, Charlton, up there.
"The inning starts," said Charlton, "and somebody says, 'You're the seventh hitter.' Now, why would they tell me that? They want me to find a helmet now? With Eckersley pitching? I don't think so. But hey, who else to face but Eckersley? I wanted the at-bat. Very badly. The only problem is, I'm a terrible hitter."
Eckersley blew him away, ending an evening that had been a little too dramatic for his liking. "I was just throwin' the ball as hard as I could, and they kept hitting it."
"So maybe you're human, after all," one of the writers told him.
"Believe me, I am," said Eckersley. "You don't have to tell me."
The bizarre finish had everyone questioning the 28-man roster limit, but NL center fielder Andy Van Slyke had a better idea.
"This is an exhibition game," he said. "Don't they realize that? You've been taken out -- so what? Why can't you come right back in? Let it be more like the games you play in the street. If you go down to the local store to get a Popsicle, you should be able to go back and play."
Van Slyke has already said he wouldn't mind being commissioner. Let's go ahead and make it official.
Leading off in style
The American League's record-setting first inning:
Tom Glavine pitching for the National League. Roberto Alomar grounded to second. Wade Boggs grounded a single through the middle. Kirby Puckett looped a single to right-center, moving Boggs to second. Joe Carter singled to center, moving Boggs to third and Puckett to second. Mark McGwire singled past second, scoring Boggs and Puckett. Cal Ripken singled deep to right, scoring Carter and moving McGwire to third. Tony Gwynn fielded the ball just short of the warning track and threw out Ripken at second. Ken Griffey singled to center, scoring McGwire. Sandy Alomar singled past a diving Ozzie Smith, moving Griffey to second. Kevin Brown struck out swinging.
Totals: 4 runs, 7 hits, 0 errors, 2 left on.