AL flies stars, strikes

5K Martinez sets tone record as NL whiffs in AL's 4-1 All-Star win

Pre-game show hit of night

Ted Williams' huddle joins 'all-timers,' stars

July 14, 1999|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

BOSTON -- The 70th All-Star Game did not deliver the fireworks that normally are associated with Fenway Park, but that didn't keep the midseason classic from becoming one enchanted evening.

The emotional pre-game ceremony involving dozens of baseball's all-time greats and a heartwarming appearance by Boston Red Sox icon Ted Williams was worth the price of admission. The American League's 4-1 victory before a sellout crowd of 34,187 seemed more like an encore.

Maybe it would have been different if the sport's most famous bandbox had lived up to its billing, but the game featured only two extra-base hits and not a single ball in the vicinity of the famous Green Monster.

Much of the pre-game buildup focused on Fenway's cozy fence dimensions and the legendary left-field wall, which had served as the ideal backdrop for Monday night's nationally televised home run contest, but Red Sox ace Pedro Martinez quickly put a dent in the historic ballpark's hitter-friendly reputation.

He has made himself at home here all season, winning nine of 10 decisions on the way to a 15-3 first half that included back-to-back American League Pitcher of the Month awards in April and May. He has been virtually unbeatable, and he was virtually unhittable last night, pitching two hitless innings as the American League staff held the power-laden National League lineup to just a run on seven hits -- five of them singles.

Martinez struck out the first four batters he faced, blowing a fastball by major-league home run leader Sammy Sosa to end the first inning and ringing up single-season home run king Mark McGwire to lead off the second. It was the first time in All-Star history that a pitcher had opened the game with more than two consecutive strikeouts, and he was rewarded with the game's Most Valuable Player Award.

This is the stuff of which dream seasons are made. Martinez is on pace to become the first pitcher since Denny McLain in 1968 to win 30 games in a single season. It's still a tremendous long shot, because he is pitching in a five-man rotation, but last night's performance appeared to be another indication that the stars are aligned in his favor.

The game was delayed briefly by the extended and heartwarming pre-game ceremony, in which 31 of the greatest players in the history of the game were introduced and Williams threw out the ceremonial first pitch. The All-Stars and all-timers converged on Williams when he arrived on the field and the crowd gave him a loud standing ovation, creating a touching scene that left the Red Sox immortal teary-eyed.

"Wasn't it great?" Williams said afterward. "I can only describe it as great. It didn't surprise me all that much because I know how these fans are here in Boston. They love this game as much as the players and Boston's lucky to have the faithful Red Sox fans. They're the best."

Game officials tried to prod the All-Stars back to their dugouts to make the scheduled 8: 40 p.m. starting time, but they weren't budging. Williams conversed briefly with McGwire and then threw the ceremonial pitch to all-time Red Sox catcher Carlton Fisk.

"It was great you could really feel the excitement," said Red Sox shortstop Nomar Garciaparra, who left to an ovation himself when replaced in the field by Derek Jeter to begin the fourth. "I think it was really nice the way everybody surrounded him. They told us to go back to the dugout and we said `No.' It was one of those things where everybody appreciated that they were part of something special."

The game almost seemed secondary, but no one seemed to mind. American League manager Joe Torre, who was one of the first All-Stars to greet Williams, could not avoid getting caught up in the moment, even though he was just minutes away from managing his second All-Star Game.

"It was so moving," he said. "You see guys like Warren Spahn and Bob Gibson out there, guys you played against, and then Ted Williams puts the cherry on top. You do get caught up in it. It was a great event."

The emotional ceremony and a raucous reception from the sellout crowd got Martinez right in the mood for a marvelous performance. He didn't allow a National League hitter to contact the ball until Matt Williams took a defensive swing and reached base on an error by Cleveland Indians second baseman Roberto Alomar. Martinez would go on to strike out Houston Astros first baseman Jeff Bagwell, with Williams thrown out attempting to steal, to complete the most dominating pitching performance of the evening.

"I was really excited," said Martinez, who led a 22-strikeout performance by the pitchers, 12 by the AL. "It wasn't just the fan reaction, but also seeing so many of the glories of baseball together at one time. It was great to see all those people out there. These are people that you only see on television or in films they are the people that you dream about."

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