Monday, May 5, 2014

The Most Memorable All-Star Games--1990-1999

Before the 1992 showcase, a writer from the Associated Press remarked: "It used to be that you could make up the all-star rosters in March--Mays, Mantle and Marichal, Kaline, Killebrew and Koufax. Now there's just no telling who might show up for baseball's coming out party." A total of twenty-four players were making first appearances in '92, leading another columnist to refer to both squads as the "All Dud Teams." Several of the aforementioned all-star rookies would go on to long and prosperous careers, including Ivan Rodriguez, Edgar Martinez and Gary Sheffield.
With President Bush in attendance, the American League handed the National League its sixth loss in seven games. Ken Griffey Jr. became the center of attention, going 3-for-3 with a home run while capturing MVP honors. Junior downplayed the accomplishment, commenting that he just "got lucky." Before the game, AL skipper Tom Kelly had joked about gathering 15 or 20 hits. He had no idea that his squad would actually accomplish the feat. In the end, Kelly's crew hit safely 19 times. Braves' ace Tom Glavine had a disastrous outing, yielding seven consecutive first inning singles. "I'd have almost rather given up a six-hundred foot homer than be blooped to death," he remarked. 

Randy Johnson was among the tallest pitchers in history at six-foot-ten. Standing on an elevated mound, he was even more imposing. The big left-hander had a lively fastball, an elusive slider and a surly persona. His questionable control early in his career made him especially menacing to opponents. Before the 1993 campaign, Phillies' first baseman John Kruk knew Johnson by reputation only. He wasn't relishing the prospect of having to facing the Mariners' ace in the All-Star Game that year.
As fate would have it, Kruk strolled to the plate against his nemesis with two outs in the third inning and the National Leauge nursing a 2-1 lead. Johsnon's first pitch was a 90 mph heater that sailed over Kruk's head clear to the backstop. Visibly rattled, Kruk fanned himself off, shook his head and smiled. He was consoled by AL catcher Ivan Rodriguez before stepping tentatively back into the box. It took just three more pitches to dispose of Kruk, who stepped into the bucket and flailed weakly at the last two. On his way to the dugout, Johnson winked playfully at the terrified NL first-sacker. It was the hurler's only strikeout in two scoreless frames. The AL breezed to a 9-3 win.
"When I stepped into the box, I said 'all I wanna do is make contact,'" Kruk told reporters at the game's conclusion. "After the first pitch, I said 'all I wanna do is live' and I lived, so I had a god at-bat." The showdown between Kruk and Johnson is among the most iconic moments in all-star history.

On the heels of a strike that wiped out the previous postseason, the 1995 summer showcase still managed to draw more than 50,000 fans to the Ballpark at Arlington. All eyes were upon NL starter Hideo Nomo, who became the first Japanese player to appear in an All-Star Game. Atlanta mound master Greg Maddux commented: "It think more people want to watch him pitch than me to be honest. He's unique. There's a certain mystique which I don't have." In Japan, businesses shut down so fans could see Nomo in action on TV (the game aired at 9 Tokyo). The right-hander didn't disappoint, working two scoreless frames while striking out 3.
Pitching was the order of the day as eleven of the fifteen hurlers who took the mound turned in scoreless performances. AL hurlers Randy Johnson, Kevin Appier and Dennis Martinez combined for 6 innings of no-hit ball. But the National League made the most of its three hits with solo homers from Craig Biggio, Mike Piazza and Jeff Conine. It was the first time in all-star history that all of a team's hits went deep. With a 3-2 victory, the NL secured its first winning streak since the 1980s. The temperature at the time of the first pitch was a sweltering 96 degrees. 

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