AL hits Rocky Mountain high AL airs out 19 hits to win highest-scoring All-Star Game, 13-8

O's Alomar named MVP

Only 3 home runs lone Denver surprise

July 08, 1998|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

DENVER -- The 69th All-Star Game figured to be an offensive showcase, and anything less would have been a fraudulent advertisement for hitter-friendly Coors Field. But did baseball's midseason festival have to turn into a circus?

Maybe it was the thin air. Maybe it was the thin pitching. Maybe it was a combination of all the factors that have turned 1998 into the year of the big hitter that turned last night's All-Star Game into a biggest offensive free-for-all in its history.

The American League scored in each of the last six innings on the way to a 13-8 victory over the National League that featured so many offensive highlights there isn't room to list them all.

It was the highest-scoring All-Star Game, with a record-tying 31 hits, 19 by the AL. It also was the longest, which probably didn't sit well with time czar Frank Robinson, who participated in the first-ball ceremony.

And, get this, it was a huge showcase for the three All-Stars from Baltimore, who temporarily escaped a dismal regular season to play a major role in the American League's record performance.

Second baseman Roberto Alomar had a home run, two singles, two runs scored and a stolen base to win the game's Most Valuable Player trophy. Cal Ripken had the two-run double that started the onslaught. Rafael Palmeiro arrived in the game late, but still managed to squeeze in two hits and an RBI.

Well, nobody came to the Mile High City expecting to see a low-scoring game.

"When you watch the scores from Denver, you always see big numbers like this," said Alomar, whose brother, Cleveland's Sandy Jr., won the game's MVP trophy last year. "This was a different kind of All-Star Game. There was a lot of scoring. In this ballpark, that's what we expected. It was a great win for the American League."

The game wasn't exactly a meteor shower. There were only three home runs, the most striking a fifth-inning shot by Barry Bonds that nearly reached the upper deck and temporarily brought the National League from behind. Alex Rodriguez also homered in the fifth and Alomar hit a towering fly ball into the right-field bleachers in the seventh, but it was the other 28 hits -- not all of them rockets -- that made the game an offensive bonanza.

"I think it was a Coors Field type of game," said NL manager Jim Leyland. "You saw some balls bloop in, some freak hits, guys had to play deep. Then they hit some balls out of the ballpark."

The American League also forced the action on the bases, stealing a record five bases and taking advantage of the inability of the National League staff to hold runners on base.

"We went into the game with that in mind, that we wanted to be as aggressive as we could be if we could get people on base," said American League manager Mike Hargrove. "We felt that if we could get our guys like Alomar and [Kenny] Lofton on base early, put some pressure, steal some bases, get into position to score early, maybe we might have a better chance of carrying it through."

The NL base runners were not nearly as aggressive, except on one ill-advised play in the eighth inning that may have cost the National League club a chance to tie the game. New York Yankees outfielder Paul O'Neill gunned down Fernando Vina at the plate with no one out and the potential tying and winning runs behind him on the bases.

The National League went down quietly after that and Indians rookie Bartolo Colon was credited with the victory even though he gave up more runs (three) than any other AL pitcher.

For a short while, it looked as if it might be a pitched battle, but not for long. The game remained scoreless into the third inning, but quickly degenerated into the kind of offensive mardi gras that has made Coors Field famous. It seemed like everybody got into the act, but oddly, baseball's two biggest swingers -- Mark McGwire and Juan Gonzalez -- each went hitless in three plate appearances, though Gonzalez did have a sacrifice fly.

National League starter Greg Maddux flirted with trouble in the first inning, but worked out of a bases-loaded jam and went on to pitch two scoreless innings. American League starter David Wells was even more impressive, retiring the side in order in the first inning and allowing only a walk in the second.

Just when it was beginning to look as if the ultimate hitters ballpark was going to be a bust, the National League broke through with two runs off Toronto Blue Jays ace Roger Clemens in the third, and the game quickly turned into a non-stop hit parade.

Future Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn broke the scoreless tie with a bases-loaded bouncer that glanced off the glove of Alomar for a two-run single. That brought Clemens face-to-face with McGwire in a potential game-breaking situation, but he managed to escape further harm.

McGwire struck out and Bonds hit a slicing fly ball that came dangerously close to the left-field fence before being caught.

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