2004 All-Star Game
The 75th Midsummer Classic will always be remembered not for WHAT happened, but for WHAT DIDN'T happen. As with most All-Star events, pre-game hype was at an all time high and the sports media could not have asked for a better itinerary of events to cover. The recently "un" retired Roger Clemens dominated the headlines and his hometown crowd of Houston Astros fans were more than anxious to witness their "favorite son" make history. At age forty-one (41), Clemens had become the oldest pitcher ever to start an All-Star Game and had recently completed a phenomenal first-half of the season. A veteran of the Classic, Roger had dominated for the American League in all eight of his previous All-Star appearances. During that time, he faced forty (40) hitters and had given up a total of one (1) extra-base hit (a 1991 home run to Andre Dawson). Ironically, catcher Mike Piazza, who had a long-standing feud with "The Rocket," also started behind the plate for the National League. Both men stated that they had put the past behind them, but many doubted that this was true.
In the opening ceremonies, American icon Muhammad Ali helped toss out a ceremonial first-pitch and Hall of Fame great Nolan Ryan "coached" one lucky fan to a million dollars in a Taco Bell sponsored pitching contest. Little did the fans at Minute Maid Park know that would be the ONLY quality pitching they would witness until the second inning. Almost immediately after taking the mound, Clemens ran into trouble. Speed, control and consensus on pitches with his catcher were obviously lacking and before they knew it, the National League was down 6-0.
Catcher Ivan Rodriguez ignited the American League's rally after tagging an RBI triple. Then, Boston's Manny Ramirez knocked out a two-run home run giving his teammates an immediate 3-0 lead. With two outs, Jason Giambi reached base on a rare Jeff Kent error, and after Derek Jeter singled to left, game MVP Alfonso Soriano cleared the bases with a first-pitch home run to left field that gave the American League a huge advantage. Both Clemens and the crowd appeared in shock after he had surrendered more runs in the first inning, than he had ever given up in his entire All-Star career to date. Although he was throwing on only two-days rest, "The Rocket" refused to accept that as an excuse and took full responsibility as he walked back to the clubhouse. Unfortunately many fans, as well as members of the media, would later pose rumors of a "conspiracy theory" after Clemens appeared to shake off a few pitches called by "his rival" leading up to the Ramirez home run.
The surprise opening marked only the second time that an All-Star team had scored six runs in a single frame as well as the most runs scored by a team since the American League tallied a record seven runs in the third inning of the '83 Classic. As a result, skipper Jack McKeon was forced to change his entire game plan after the starting right-hander threw thirty-five (35) pitches in the first inning debacle. The sudden shuffle appeared to prevent the National League from establishing a rhythm and they continued to struggle throughout the contest.
Little improved for National League favoring crowd of 41,886 either until the fourth inning when the Nationals managed to score three runs off of Cleveland's C.C. Sabathia. First Jeff Kent knocked a two-out single, followed by a base hit by Carlos Beltran. Edgar Renteria sent Kent home with a ground-rule double down the left-field line, and two more runs scored on a double by Albert Pujols.
Not to be outdone, David Ortiz added a third home run for the American League in the sixth with a two-run shot that increased the American's lead to five. Starter Mark Mulder was credited with the win after holding the National League to one run over two innings of work, although being staked to a 6-0 lead didn't hurt the Oakland ace's chances either. Along the way, Mulder retired Barry Bonds on a routine fly ball to center field, which pleased him nearly as much as getting the win. When America League reliever Esteban Loaiza walked Barry Bonds later in the game, the sellout crowd showered him with boos.
Perhaps the most exciting performances on the mound took place only after the game had been clearly decided. Fans in attendance were treated to a real "pitcher's duel" put on by two of the game's greatest. Eric Gagne, who had recently set an all-time record for most consecutive saves (84) completed the Nationals effort and Mariano Rivera, the most successful post-season closer in history, ended the game. Still using the "it counts" concept (disputed by the Players Union), the American League walked away with a 9-4 victory and their second consecutive home field advantage going into the 2004 World Series.