07/16/2003 1:15 AM ET
Anderson, Blalock blast AL to win
HR in eighth gives Junior Circuit home edge in Series
By Doug Miller / MLB.com
CHICAGO -- The American League didn't want to surrender home-field advantage in the World Series just yet.
Hank Blalock deposits an Eric Gagne offering into the U.S. Cellular Field bleachers in the eighth inning, capping the AL's comeback Tuesday. (Mark Duncan/AP)
Trailing by four runs going into the sixth inning of the 74th Major League Baseball All-Star Game, the AL mounted a consistent rally that was capped by a Hank Blalock pinch-hit, two-run homer in the bottom of the eighth.
( The homer: 56k | 300k)
It gave the Americans a thrilling 7-6 comeback victory Tuesday night before 47,609, the largest crowd in the history of U.S. Cellular Field.
The AL extended its unbeaten streak in the Midsummer Classic to seven. The AL won five in a row starting in 1997 before last year's 11-inning tie.
Also, for the first time in baseball history, the win ensured that the Junior Circuit will host four of the seven games in the 2003 World Series, including Games 6 and 7.
"It's really just still sinking in right now," said Blalock, the Texas Rangers' 22-year-old third baseman
who became the 12th player in history to homer in his first All-Star at-bat.
"It's an unbelievable feeling in my first All-Star Game to really get up there and make a difference for the American League."
"I'm sure whatever AL team makes it to the World Series will send Blalock a 12-pack of something -- especially if it goes to Game 7," added the Yankees' Jason Giambi, who also homered in the game. "We might vote him in a full share if we win. We have to make it there first."
A night after winning the Home Run Derby, Angels left fielder Garret Anderson made a difference, too, going 3-for-4 with a home run and two RBIs. He was named the game's Most Valuable Player.
Anderson on MLB.TV: 56k | 300k)
"People are waking up and seeing Garret's talent," AL and Angels manager Mike Scioscia said.
"He's one of the top five hitters in the game and a lot of people don't see it. He's not comfortable with it, but whether he likes it or not, a lot more people are going to know about him now."
The home-field reward was one of the big topics in the clubhouses after the game, but most players and managers seemed to agree that it didn't increase the intensity on the field.
That, they said, was a given.
"How it ended is not exactly how I wished for the National League," NL manager Dusty Baker said.
"But it is what it is, and these guys were playing hard no matter what was at stake.
"We realize and recognize what was put on us and the stakes that were there, but these guys, I'm sure they would have played the same way if it was a pickup sandlot game someplace."
The NL looked to be comfortable heading into the eighth with a 6-4 lead, but Dodgers closer Eric Gagne surrendered a one-out double to Anderson, who was removed for pinch-runner Melvin Mora.
Mora scored on a double by Vernon Wells to make it 6-5 before Blalock's blast, the first pinch-hit homer in an All-Star Game since 1995.
"It's an All-Star Game," Gagne said. "You don't want to go out there and walk people. You want to
challenge people, and that's what I tried to do. I mean, I tried to pitch my game and I got hit."
Even the normally stoic Anderson pumped his fist when he saw the ball clear the wall.
"That is what's exciting about the game," Anderson said. "Never knowing what's going to happen. Because on paper, we were not supposed to score any runs off Gagne. And to do it in that fashion, it definitely was very exciting."
The AL had taken a 1-0 lead in the third inning on a Carlos Delgado single. Soon after, Scioscia gave the ball to Seattle middle reliever Shigetoshi Hasegawa to start the fifth.
Hasegawa immediately displayed a lack of command, walking Gary Sheffield to lead off the frame before surrendering the first home run in the game.
Todd Helton blasted a first-pitch fastball over the wall in center field for a two-run shot that put the NL up, 2-1.
It was the first home run by a member of the Colorado Rockies in All-Star Game history.
Scott Rolen followed with a single before Hasegawa got two outs, but pinch-hitter Rafael Furcal ended the right-hander's night with a sharp single to center, prompting Scioscia to summon lefty Eddie Guardado to face lefty-swinging Jim Edmonds.
That move backfired when the NL countered with right-handed-hitting Andruw Jones, who stroked a two-run double down the left-field line. Albert Pujols joined the pelting party, singling in the NL's fifth run.
That 5-1 lead held until the bottom of the sixth, when the Americans got back in the game off right-hander Woody Williams.
Alex Rodriguez legged out an infield single and was awarded second base when shortstop Furcal's throw sailed high over first baseman Richie Sexson's head for an error.
Anderson then lived up to his title from the previous night, scorching a first-pitch homer to right-center to cut the National League's lead to 5-3.
( Anderson highlights: 56k | 300k)
It was the first time a Derby winner has homered in the All-Star Game since Frank Thomas accomplished the feat in The Ballpark in Arlington in 1995. Anderson added a single and a double on the night.
Jones struck again in the top of the seventh, hammering a Mark Mulder pitch into the stands in left-center for a solo homer that gave the NL a 6-3 lead.
But Giambi made his first at-bat a quick and decisive one, blasting a solo shot of his own in the bottom of the frame on the first pitch he saw from Billy Wagner to make it 6-4.
( The homer: 56k | 300k)
American League starter Esteban Loaiza of the White Sox did his home park proud, tossing two scoreless opening frames.
He allowed the first hit of the game to Edmonds with one out in the first, but he retired the next five batters before Roger Clemens took over.
Clemens, a last-minute replacement for last year's AL Cy Young Award winner, Barry Zito, looked impressive in what likely was his final All-Star Game. The future Hall of Famer struck out two in a scoreless third. One of his strikeout victims was Edgar Renteria, who Clemens fanned for his 4,000th career strikeout last month.
NL starter Jason Schmidt, meanwhile, defined pitch efficiency in the first inning, retiring Ichiro Suzuki, Alfonso Soriano and Delgado in all of five pitches en route to two shutout innings.
Those innings, however, included the only scary moment of the game, when a high heater from Schmidt got away and cracked AL designated hitter Edgar Martinez in the top of the helmet.
( The play: 56k | 300k)
Fortunately, Martinez wasn't hurt on the play and stayed in the game.
The first defensive highlight of the night came in the top of the second, when Delgado reached into
the photographers' section in foul territory down the first-base line to snag a Sheffield popup.
( The play: 56k | 300k)
The second fielding gem came in the top of the fourth, when Ichiro ran and leaped at the warning track to snag a hot line drive by Pujols in right field.
( The play: 56k | 300k)
Angels reliever Brendan Donnelly pitched a scoreless eighth for the win and A's closer Keith Foulke retired the side in the ninth for the save.
Donnelly said home-field advantage or not, the objective was clear.
"We all play the game to win," he said. "If you play a game of checkers, you want to win. If you're a competitor, you always want to win."
In the thundering din of a clubhouse rocking with the music of victory, Giambi turned the conversation back to Blalock, who brought the AL all the way back with one swing.
"To have that young kid step up like that and hit that home run, it's amazing," Giambi said.
"Dreams come true."
Doug Miller is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.