All-Star Game to be monster

Only Fenway question is whether pitchers or hitters will dominate

Game's past, present united

Martinez, Schilling could offset cozy park

July 13, 1999|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

BOSTON -- The 70th All-Star Game should offer something for everyone. The traditionalists will love the 1912 aura of historic Fenway Park. New-age fans will surely enjoy watching the pumped-up, high-tech stars of the coming millennium showcase their skills in baseball's version of the Time Tunnel.

The midsummer classic has come back to Boston to celebrate the game's storied past before one of the oldest ballparks in the major leagues falls victim to baseball's search for a better economic future.

It may soon be out with the old and in with the new -- a state-of-the-art ballpark is in the works -- but not before Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, Ken Griffey and one of the greatest collections of power hitters ever assembled make one last assault on Fenway's legendary Green Monster.

Talk about an explosive combination. The biggest and strongest hitters in the history of the sport. The cozy dimensions of a ballpark that was built in the dead ball era. The supposedly juiced baseball that has contributed to another baseball-wide home run bonanza.

But then, you can't forget about the pitchers. American League starter Pedro Martinez is on pace to become baseball's first 30-game winner since Denny McLain won 31 in 1968. National League starter Curt Schilling (13-4) has struck out 300 or more batters in each of the past two seasons.

"You just don't know what's going to happen," said New York Mets catcher Mike Piazza. "Sometimes, when you have all the buildup for a slug fest, it doesn't happen, because you can never underestimate good pitching. If Pedro is dealing and hitting his corners, you just have to wait and see what you can do against the next guy."

Martinez (15-3) is the perfect choice to start for the American League squad. He's really the only choice, since he has been the most dominating pitcher of 1999 since Day One, but he has the added advantage of spending the past 1 1/2 seasons getting comfortable at Fenway.

The big question during yesterday's All-Star news conference was not whether he could dominate the star-studded National League squad for two or three innings, but whether he can maintain the unbelievable pace that has carried him to 15 victories at the season's traditional halfway point and become the first pitcher in a five-man rotation to win 30 games in a single season.

"I think it's doable," Martinez said yesterday, "if you can get the starts."

American League manager Joe Torre isn't so sure, but he knows better than to discount the possibility after a 1998 season in which McGwire and Sosa beat overwhelming odds and his own New York Yankees set an American League record for regular-season victories.

"You have to be lucky," Torre said. "You've got to win almost every decision, which means you've got to leave every game with a lead. I think it's going to be very difficult for him to win 30, but he's capable."

It's going to be no picnic just trying to wade through a National League lineup that includes five guys with a legitimate chance to finish the season with 50 or more home runs, but who better to face that challenge?

National League manager Bruce Bochy had a more difficult decision when it came to choosing a starter. He originally was thought to be leaning toward Arizona Diamondbacks ace Randy Johnson, but decided over the weekend to go with Schilling, who ranks second in the National League in victories behind St. Louis starter Kent Bottenfield and trails Johnson in both ERA and strikeouts.

Johnson leads the league in almost every positive statistical category relevant to a starting pitcher -- except victories -- but his won-lost record has been tarnished by a string of outstanding performances by opposing pitchers, including a no-hitter by Cardinals pitcher Jose Jimenez.

"When I named the reserves, I thought the tough part of the job was over," said Bochy, "but then I had to pick a starter. Randy's numbers aren't indicative of how he's thrown, but I felt that Curt having an extra day's rest, I was better off with Schilling. I know that I can get two innings out of him."

Not a bad problem to have.

Schilling came up in the Red Sox organization before he was traded to the Orioles along with Brady Anderson in the 1988 deal for pitcher Mike Boddicker, but he has never started a game at Fenway Park.

"I'm debating whether to watch the home run-hitting contest tonight," Schilling said yesterday afternoon. "Those guys are going to make this place look like a Wiffle ball field."

Actually, it is the National League lineup that is packed with most of the big right-handed power hitters. The American League squad features a more diverse collection of hitters, from speedy leadoff man Kenny Lofton and No. 2 hitter Nomar Garciaparra to Griffey and major-league RBI leader Manny Ramirez.

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