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Published: Wednesday, 7/11/2007

AL win streak hits 10

ASSOCIATED PRESS
The Mariners' Ichiro Suzuki connects on an inside-the-park home run. The Mariners' Ichiro Suzuki connects on an inside-the-park home run.
JEFF CHIU / AP Enlarge

SAN FRANCISCO On a night of tricky hops, Ichiro Suzuki and the American League also bounced back to win.

Instead of a Barry Bonds splash shot, the defining hit in last night's All-Star game was Suzuki s inside-the-park home run, the first in the game s history.

Suzuki lined a go-ahead, two-run drive off the right-field wall in the fifth inning, Carl Crawford and Victor Martinez later hit conventional shots and Detroit Tigers and American League manager Jim Leyland s team made it 10 straight over the Nationals, holding on for a 5-4 victory.

The Tigers Justin Verlander pitched the bottom of the sixth inning, giving up two runs one earned and one unearned. He allowed one hit without a walk or strikeout.

Detroit bats weren t much of a factor in the game, with Ivan Rodriguez getting the team s only hit in two at-bats. The Tigers Carlos Guillen, Magglio Ordonez and Placido Polanco also played.

I thought it was going to go over the fence, Suzuki said through a translator. When it didn t, I was bummed out.

The ball smudged with green and red and signed by Suzuki immediately was handed over to the Hall of Fame.

He s an artist with that bat, NL manager Tony La Russa said.

That wasn t the only drama.

After Alfonso Soriano s two-out, two-run homer in the ninth that made it 5-4, the NL loaded the bases on three walks before Angels closer Francisco Rodriguez retired Aaron Rowand on a routine fly to right for a save.

Willie Mays, Bonds godfather, was honored with a touching tribute before the game. In the Say Hey Kid s day, the NL ruled All-Star games but not anymore. The AL closed to 40-36-2 and improved to 5-0 since the All-Star winner received homefield advantage in the World Series.

In a decade of dominance, the notorious 2002 tie at Milwaukee was all that interrupted the AL s run. The only longer streak was when the NL took 11 in a row from 1972-82.

Soriano made it close with his homer off Seattle closer J.J. Putz, who then walked J.J. Hardy. Francisco Rodriguez relieved and walked Derrek Lee on a full count Leyland screamed at first-base umpire Charlie Reliford about a check swing. A walk to Orlando Hudson loaded the bases before Rowand s fly ended it.

Suzuki, on the verge of a large contract extension from the Mariners, got three hits and was the game s MVP. After the ceremony, a recording of Yankee Stadium public address announcer Bob Sheppard invited fans to next year s game at Yankee Stadium.

Fans had waited in kayaks out in McCovey Cove beyond right field in vain for some shots into the water no souvenirs found their way into the chilly bay.

Bonds, the center of attention in the days before the game, had a quiet night. He flied to right field in the first, hit an opposite-field shot to the warning track in left in the third, then departed at the top of the fourth.

He received a huge ovation after he came out on the red carpet during the pregame introductions and bowed three times to his adoring hometown fans. Hitting in the No. 2 spot his last regular-season appearance in that slot was 20 years ago he even faked a bunt on the first pitch of his second at-bat.

There s too many emotions to be able to explain it, he said. This is my family who I grew up for a lot of years. All I can do is say thank you.

His chase for Hank Aaron s home run record resumes later this week, and the scrutiny will return. But for a night, the swirl of steroids speculation lifted along with the San Francisco fog.

Ken Griffey Jr., perhaps the closest to a latter-day Mays baseball has seen, drove in two runs for the NL with a first-inning single and a sixth-inning sacrifice fly.

AT&T Park, which opened in 2000, is the most picturesque park in the majors. With asymmetrical dimensions, uneven walls and sometimes difficult winds, it can be a difficult place to play. On this night, there was even an infield double by the Mets Jose Reyes, a ball that hit the lip of the grass and veered away from Alex Rodriguez at third.

Boston s Josh Beckett got the win, and San Diego s Chris Young who gave up Suzuki s homer was the loser.

Young entered to start the fifth and walked his first batter, Brian Roberts. One out later, Suzuki reached down and golfed a ball to right-center field. It hit off an All-Star ad in an area known as the arcade and instead of bouncing straight back, it kicked toward right field.

It just hit the corner and bounced the other way, Griffey said. I tried to make a good throw to the cutoff man and hoped that he would fall down.

Suzuki was at third by the time Griffey got to the ball and easily sped home for the first inside-the-park homer of his major league career since joining the majors in 2001, he had never hit one in the regular season or playoffs. An All-Star every season he s played in the majors, his homer put the AL ahead 2-1.

Second in the majors with a ,359 average, Suzuki joked about his power.

If I m allowed to hit .220, I could probably hit 40, he said, but nobody wants that.

Before a ballpark record crowd of 43,965 on an overcast evening, Mays was honored for being perhaps the greatest five-tool player in the sport s history. After the All-Stars were introduced, he walked in from center field, flanked by Bonds and Derek Jeter, between two rows of the assembled players.

The tribute was similar but less emotional than 1999 s ceremony honoring Ted Williams at Boston s Fenway Park.

With a picture of his famous 1954 World Series catch projected behind him on the center-field batter s eye, Mays acknowledged the cheers and threw a ceremonial first pitch to Reyes. Mays got in a pink 1958 Cadillac Eldorado convertible near second base, then did a loop past first base, behind the plate and on to third base, throwing baseballs into the stands. Mays, now 76, appeared in a record-tying 24 All-Star games and bridged the move of the Giants franchise from New York to the West Coast.

Reyes, whose 46 steals lead the majors, opened the bottom of the first with a single up the middle, stole second on Dan Haren s second pitch to Bonds and came around when Griffey lined a two-out pitch high off the mound and into center.

Junior was the star again in the fourth, after Alex Rodriguez singled and stole second. Ivan Rodriguez hit a two-out single to right and Griffey threw a one-hop strike to the plate.

While Pete Rose may have bowled over Ray Fosse to win the 1970 game in Cincinnati, it s a different era these days. A-Rod, knowing he was out by 10 feet, pulled up as catcher Russell Martin tagged him out.

Crawford connected with two outs in the sixth against Francisco Cordero. The drive was a little to the center-field side of Suzuki s shot, about 20 feet from the sign that totals Bonds homers, currently 751. A fan appeared to reach over the 19-foot brick wall and gather up the ball.

Griffey drove in the NL s second run with a sacrifice fly in the bottom half against Verlander after Carlos Beltran nearly duplicated Suzuki s shot off the wall but was held to a triple by Vladimir Guerrero.

Martinez hit the 18th pinch homer in All-Star history, an eighth-inning drive to left off Mets closer Billy Wagner.



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