- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 12, 2007

SAN FRANCISCO — A sellout crowd packed itself into AT&T; Park on a chilly San Francisco evening and a nation of baseball fans watched on television hoping to see one titanic home run by the beloved hometown hero who has become the scorn of every other town in the major leagues.

But by the time the 78th All-Star Game was complete, with the American League hanging on desperately for a 5-4 win, Barry Bonds was merely part of the sideshow.

The San Francisco Giants slugger — and soon-to-be-crowned home run champion of all time — was outpowered by a trio of opposing All-Stars who all homered to lead the AL to yet another midsummer victory and overshadowed by a spunky NL squad that nearly pulled off a ninth-inning rally to snatch home-field advantage in the World Series back from its counterparts.

Ichiro Suzuki, Carl Crawford and Victor Martinez all circled the bases as the AL extended its unbeaten streak to 11 games, with the Mariners’ Ichiro making history as the first player in All-Star history to hit an inside-the-park homer.

The NL, which hasn’t won this exhibition game since 1996, appeared to be little match for an AL squad that used its raw power to take the lead. Until the senior circuit gave it one last, rousing try in the ninth, loading the bases with two outs before coming up one hit short in a setting that felt anything like an exhibition game.



“Oh, it was just like a regular-season game,” Washington Nationals first baseman Dmitri Young said. “I mean, yeah it’s an exhibition game, but when you start playing the game, all that goes out the window.”

Young was the catalyst for the late rally. The second-to-last position player left on manager Tony La Russa’s bench came up to pinch-hit with two outs and the NL trailing 5-2 and beat out a slow roller to the right side for a rare infield single.

“It’s a hit,” he said. “I’m taking it.”

Young was more than happy to be on base when Alfonso Soriano (Washington’s 2006 All-Star) followed with an opposite-field, two-run homer off Seattle closer J.J. Putz. Suddenly, the lead had been cut to one run and the crowd of 43,965 was in a frenzy.

The situation turned even more intense. Putz walked J.J. Hardy to put the tying run on, then Angels closer Francisco Rodriguez (brought in to bail Putz out) walked both Derrek Lee and Orlando Hudson to load the bases and bring Philadelphia’s Aaron Rowand to the plate with a chance to be the hero.

“Everybody’s getting all pumped up, everybody’s yelling and screaming, having a good time with it,” Rowand said. “It started getting serious.”

Alas, the NL couldn’t come up with one last hit to cap a dramatic comeback. Rowand hit a harmless fly ball to right for the last out of an entertaining game.

“We had the right guy up in the ninth,” La Russa said. “Rowand is a clutch guy, made a nice swing and put it in the air. What you do is go about it the right way, and if the other team beats you, that’s how it goes.”

All the late drama couldn’t entirely overshadow the Bonds show.

With the world watching and the entire city of San Francisco clinging to his every swing, Bonds came up a bit short in his 14th and perhaps final All-Star Game. He went 0-for-2 with a pair of flyouts, one of them a warning-track shot to left that was perhaps less than 10 feet from clearing the fence for a home run.

“I hit it pretty good, I thought,” he said. “But I caught it behind myself. … I hit it pretty good, but I didn’t hit it good enough.”

Thus ended an emotional night for Bonds, who was touched by the outpouring of love he received from Giants fans, a far cry from the reaction he gets on the road.

“I’m lost for words with it,” he said. “There’s too many emotions to be able to explain it. You know, this is my family. … To go out there and be cheered, it’s a great feeling. Like I said, I’ll be forever grateful.”

No active player received a larger ovation than Bonds every time his name was announced, but not even the soon-to-be home-run king could top the greatest Giants player of them all for the affection of local fans. When Willie Mays emerged from behind the center-field fence to throw out the ceremonial first pitch and take a victory lap around the park in a vintage pink convertible, the roar was deafening.

“Mind-blowing,” Young said. “My curly hair straightened out. That’s how it felt on the field.”

The Mays tribute was the highlight of a drawn-out pregame ceremony that pushed back the first pitch of the game to nearly 9 p.m. on the East Coast. Once things finally got underway, the NL wasted little time jumping on the board.

Leadoff man Jose Reyes singled off of AL starter Dan Haren to open the first, then stole second as Bonds watched a strike go by. Bonds, who hadn’t hit second in any starting lineup in 20 years, couldn’t move the runner up. Neither could Carlos Beltran, who struck out swinging.

But Ken Griffey Jr., himself a 13-time All-Star, came through with a base hit up the middle. Reyes came around to score, and the NL had itself a 1-0 lead.

That lead held up until the fifth, when a freak bounce resulted in an All-Star first.

With one on and one out, Ichiro laced a drive to right-center off Chris Young. It struck the wall, then caromed a good 30 feet toward the foul line. By the time Griffey reversed track and retrieved the ball, the lightning-quick Ichiro already was rounding third. He coasted across the plate, never needing to slide, with the first inside-the-park homer in All-Star history.

That ended a 3-for-3 night for the Japanese superstar, earning him MVP honors in a game that proved to have something for everyone.

“It’s one that I’ll never forget,” Ichiro said through a translator. “The past six years, I never had an All-Star that I really thought I gave it my all or was able to give it my all.

“So I’m really happy. It was a fun All-Star Game.”

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