American League Triumphs
on Blalock Home Run

In an entertaining and fast-moving contest, the American League staged a late-inning rally to defeat the National League, 7-6, in the 2003 All-Star Game at U. S. Cellular Field in Chicago. Texas’s Hank Blalock capped a three-run rally in the last of the eighth with a two-run homer to right-center off the Dodgers’ Eric Gagné.

Although the teams produced 13 runs, 20 hits, and 1 error, only three walks were issued, and the game was played at a rapid pace, finishing in 2 hours, 38 minutes. The main feature to many, however, was that there was a winning team, in contrast to the previous All-Star Game, which ended in a 7-7 11-inning tie when managers Joe Torre and Bob Brenly used up all their pitchers.

In this contest, American League manager Mike Scioscia used eight pitchers but still had several left in the bullpen (including Oakland’s Barry Zito, who had been declared unavailable to pitch by his general manager and removed from the roster). Those who could have been called on by Scioscia had the game got longer were Lance Carter, Roy Halladay, Mike MacDougal, and C. C. Sabathia. For the National League, manager Dusty Baker held back Armando Benitez, Mark Prior (who had been shaken up in a collision a few days earlier), John Smoltz, Mike Williams, and Dontrelle Willis.

As for non-pitchers, only American League catcher Jason Varitek and National League outfielder Geoff Jenkins failed to get into the game. Much was made, particularly by FOX Sports, which telecast the game, that the league winning the game would get home-field advantage in this year’s World Series. In a press-conference the day before the game, neither manager provided much insight on how this would affect the decisions they made in the game. “It’s going to be tough to manage for matchups and get everybody in the game,” said Scioscia. “So I think that I’m going to have to apologize to a lot of guys in advance that might not get an opportunity to play in the game tomorrow.”

Baker said, “A lot depends on the score and the game; I mean, I’m going to try to play guys. I’m going to try to win the game, as well. Anybody that knows me knows I try to play every game to win. . . . I just don’t like guys who travel thousands of miles and don’t get an opportunity to play in front of family and friends, so hopefully we can do both.”

The National League was leading 6-3 in the top of the seventh when Baker had Rondell White pinch-hit for designated-hitter Barry Bonds, hardly a move that would be made for any other reason to get White, who grounded into an inning-ending double play, into the game.

The three-run lead at that point may have seemed safe to Baker—particularly with bullpen aces Billy Wagner, Eric Gagné, and John Smoltz in line to finish up—but the American League mounted its comeback off Wagner and Gagné, making an appearance by Smoltz unnecessary.

The starting pitchers, Jason Schmidt for the National League and Estaban Loaiza for the American League, each worked two strong innings, Schmidt using only five pitches to retire the side in order in the first and striking out three batters, sandwiched around a hit batter and single, in the second. The batter hit was designated hitter Edgar Martinez, who took a fastball off the batting helmet but stayed in the game.

In the last of the third, Randy Wolf walked Ichiro, who went to second on a wild pitch. With Alfonso Soriano at bat, Ichiro took off for third. Soriano fisted a short pop up in foul territory on the first-base side. Wolf raced over but declined to dive for the ball, instead letting it fall. He retired Soriano, on a strikeout, anyway, but then gave up a run-scoring, line-drive single to left-center to Carlos Delgado, who leads the American League with 97 runs batted in.

The National League had been held to a first-inning single by Jim Edmonds until the fifth, when Gary Sheffield drew a lead-off walk off Shigetoshi Hasegawa. Todd Helton hit a home run to center to put the Nationals ahead, 2-1. After Scott Rolen singled, Hasegawa retired Javier Lopez and Jose Vidro before giving up another single, to pinch-hitter Rafael Furcal. Scioscia summoned Eddie Guardado to finish the inning, which he did, but not before allowing more damage. Andruw Jones grounded a double into the left-field corner. A spectator leaned over and touched the ball. Umpire Bill Welke signaled interference as Furcal, who had been on first, was rounding third. Plate umpire Tim McClelland immediately indicated that Furcal was entitled to home on the play (along with Rolen, who had already scored). Scioscia argued McClelland’s decision that Furcal would have been able to score if not for the interference, but the call was rendered insignificant when Guardado gave up another hit, a single by Albert Pujols, that scored Jones and made the score 5-1.

In the sixth inning, Garret Anderson cut the lead with a two-run homer, but Jones added some padding with a solo home run in the top of the seventh. With two out in the bottom of the inning, Jason Giambi homered to right-center off Wagner.

The score was 6-4 as Gagné came in for the last of the eighth. After retiring Nomar Garciaparra, Gagné gave up a double to Anderson. Melvin Mora ran for Anderson and went to third when Carl Everett, hitting for Martinez, grounded out. Vernon Wells then doubled to left-center to bring in Mora and put the tying run at second base.

The next batter was Blalock, hitting for Troy Glaus. Scioscia later indicated that he had held the left-handed hitting Blalock for such a matchup. Mixing changeups and fastballs, Gagné fell behind in the count, 2-0 and then 3-1, before coming in with a fastball that Blalock hit deep into the right-field seats for the game-winning margin. “Wells just got on second base so I was trying to hit a single. That’s all I was trying to do,” Blalock said after the game. “Fortunately, I worked myself into a good count where I could get something to hit.”

Oakland’s Keith Foulke came in to pitch the ninth and retired the first two batters before missing with his first three pitches to Rafael Furcal. He got a pair of strikes to fill the count. Furcal hit the next pitch deep to right. It appeared that the drive might reach the seats and tie the game, but Magglio Ordonez, with his back to the fence, made the catch to end the game.

A Treacherous Rocket Journey
For a brief time, Roger Clemens of the New York Yankees had a chance to be the winning pitcher of the game. Although that disappeared with the National League’s fifth-inning rally, the main story concerning Clemens was what he went through to get to the game.

Playing his final season, Clemens hadn’t originally been selected to the All-Star squad. However, after Oakland’s Barry Zito was determined to be unavailable to pitch because of a long outing the previous Saturday, the American League decided it “needed another arm,” and manager Mike Scioscia wanted to fill the opening with the man known as the “Rocket,” who was relaxing with his family at their lake home, about an hour north of the family’s permanent home in Houston, Texas. Yankees general manager Brian Cashman reached Clemens on Monday, the day before the game, but Clemens wouldn’t give a decision until consulting with his family. All except his youngest son, Kody, were for making the trip. “We didn’t get our fishing trip in,” explained Roger. “He kind of sighed and took a deep breath and looked at me and said, ‘Dad, why can’t they get Andy Pettitte?’”

The family vote concluded, the Clemens crew (including a pair of in-laws) prepared to fly to Chicago on Tuesday in their private jet, which is based in Dallas. On Tuesday morning, however, the weather in Texas made the trip look unlikely. With hurricane winds hitting the coast and moving inland, the flight crew called to report there was no way they could get into Houston. Later in the morning they called to say they might be able to fly out of College Station (about an hour-and-a-half drive away) if the Clemens could get there before the weather there would render a take-off impossible. “They just said, ‘You’ve got to get to College Station by noon or it’s a no-go,’” said Clemens. “We were able to get there about 12:20, and the storm, it was hitting quick there, too. The winds were extremely heavy driving and the rain and everything to get to College Station, so I’m just really happy that it all worked out.”

In the game, Clemens pitched the top of the third, getting Javier Lopez to ground out and then striking out Jose Vidro and Edgar Renteria. The American League scored in the bottom of the inning, temporarily making Clemens the pitcher of record.

While the win opportunity disappeared, Clemens did tie the All-Star Game record for pitching appearances, joining Jim Bunning, Don Drysdale, Juan Marichal, and Tom Seaver, who all pitched in eight All-Star Games.

Back to Main Page