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Night belongs to a legend

Cal Ripken marks his final All-Star appearance with a home run to lead the American League to a 4-1 victory.

By JOHN ROMANO

© St. Petersburg Times,
published July 11, 2001


SEATTLE -- The production was well-scripted. Television microphones for the managers in the dugouts. A flyover by military airplanes. Even a trophy presentation by the commissioner at mid game.

But even the best of scripts needs to be tweaked. Needs the kind of emotion that only spontaneity can provide.

The moments that will be best remembered from Tuesday's All-Star Game, won 4-1 by the American League, are like that.

The real treasures came from the heart. And the wazoo.

There was Cal Ripken, playing in his last All-Star Game, making a dramatic final impression. The Safeco Field crowd of 47,364 rose to its feet when Ripken came to the plate in the third, and he had to step out of the batter's box to acknowledge the reception. When he stepped back in, Ripken ripped a home run into the leftfield bullpen on Chan Ho Park's first pitch.

Ripken, in his 19th All-Star Game, was named Most Valuable Player. Ripken, who announced last month that he will retire at the end of the season, also won the award in 1991 and is the AL's first two-time winner.

"I still had a shot of adrenaline or a long case of the goose bumps, I'm not sure which yet," Ripken said. "The ovation, people standing up, I came out and tried to acknowledge them very quickly because I didn't want the game to be delayed. I got back in and just saw the first pitch, swung at it, and made good contact. The ball went out of the ballpark, and I felt like I was flying around the bases."

Yet, even tearjerkers need comic relief.

May we present Tommy Lasorda.

The portly Hall of Fame manager, who was invited to be an honorary third-base coach by protege Bobby Valentine, was knocked on his backside by a flying bat. Lasorda, 74, insists he was not struck by Vladimir Guerrero's broken bat, but replays indicate it struck him near his midsection. Lasorda dropped to the ground, and his feet flew into the air as the National League dugout erupted in laughter. One of the night's biggest cheers came between innings when the stadium video screen showed a replay of Lasorda's flop on a bloopers reel.

"I never even saw the bat. I was watching the ball go down the rightfield line," said Lasorda, whom commissioner Bud Selig visited in the clubhouse after the game to make sure he was all right. "It's the first time I've been hit like that in my life, after all these years."

The rest of the game was typical All-Star fare: lots of outstanding pitching and very little drama.

The National League was held to one hit through five innings, a Luis Gonzalez single in the fourth, and trailed from the time of Ripken's homer.

The AL put the game away in the sixth when Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter and White Sox outfielder Magglio Ordonez hit back-to-back homers off Cubs pitcher Jon Lieber.

It was the American League's fifth straight victory and 11th in 14 years.

And, fittingly, it was Ripken's night.

It began when Ripken went to third base to take ground balls as starter Roger Clemens warmed up. Rangers shortstop Alex Rodriguez was waiting for him. Ripken was a shortstop for the first 15 years of his career and helped redefine the position for bigger men. Rodriguez insisted that Ripken switch positions with him for the first inning.

"I thought at first it was just him, but I realized when he pointed into the dugout that everybody was in on it except me," Ripken said. "Fear ran through my veins because I didn't think -- on the world stage -- that it was time to go back to shortstop to see if I could play there for an inning."

The night soon grew even more memorable for Ripken when he came to the plate to the standing ovation in the third. A month shy of his 41st birthday, he became the oldest player to hit a home run in the All-Star Game.

"You expect great things to happen when Cal is on the field," Jeter said. "This was Cal's day. He always seems to get the job done when all eyes are on him."

A few innings later, Ripken and Padres star Tony Gwynn were honored by Selig with the Commissioner's Historic Achievement Award. The game was stopped for six minutes before the start of the sixth inning as players from both teams surrounded Ripken and Gwynn during the presentation.

"There were so many special things going on tonight," Reds first baseman Sean Casey said. "Cal hitting the home run, Cal and Tony being honored like that. Tommy going down on his rear. All the Mariners guys playing in front of their fans. It just seemed like a special night. A lot of magic in the air."

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