07/16/2003 1:41 AM ET
Bullpen breakdown: Bummer for NL
All-Star manager surprised by AL comeback
By Mychael Urban / MLB.com
CHICAGO -- When Atlanta's Andruw Jones homered off Oakland's Mark Mulder to give the National League a 6-3 lead in the top of the seventh inning Tuesday, more than a few people at U.S. Cellular Field figured the 74th All-Star Game was all but over.
Eric Gagne reacts after giving up Hank Blalock's game-winning home run. (Mark Duncan/AP)
Dusty Baker, the NL manager, was one of them. He still hadn't used Houston's Billy Wagner, Los Angeles' Eric Gagne or Atlanta's John Smoltz, the league's three best one-inning artists.
Unfortunately for whichever NL team goes on to the World Series, Smoltz never got a chance to pitch. Wagner gave up a mammoth solo home run to New York's Jason Giambi in the bottom of the seventh, and Gagne surrendered three runs in the eighth, the final blow being a two-run, pinch-hit homer by Texas' Hank Blalock.
Anaheim's Brendan Donnelly and Oakland's Keith Foulke each pitched a perfect inning of relief to hold the NL at bay, and the AL escaped with a thrilling, 7-6 win.
"Any time you go out there and have a three-run lead late in the game and you have Wagner, Gagne and Smoltz ..." Baker said, his thoughts trailing off. "Their bats came alive."
Giambi's blow seemed to do much of the resuscitating. A 404-foot shot into the back rows of the right-field bleachers, it gave the AL hope.
"When Giambi hit one out off Wagner, it was on," said Oakland catcher Ramon Hernandez. "That got us going."
They kept going in the eighth against Gagne, who hadn't blown a save since last August and is 31-for-31 in save situations this year. A one-out double by the game's MVP, Garret Anderson, got the rally started, and after pinch-runner Melvin Mora of the Orioles moved to third on a groundout, the home team put together some two-out magic.
Toronto's Vernon Wells doubled in Mora to bring the AL within one, and Blalock, hitting for Anaheim's Troy Glaus, hammered a 3-1 pitch out to right-center for the lead.
Blalock said he was surprised not to get some of Gagne's nasty offspeed stuff on the pitch he hit out.
"I knew he had a good changeup," Blalock said. "I had never faced him before, but I knew he had a good changeup and obviously a good fastball. He threw me some changeups and a couple fastballs [early in the count], and I ended up hitting the fastball."
Wagner suggested that he and Gagne might have approached hitters a little differently had it not been an All-Star Game.
"In a situation like this," he said, "you go out there and you want to have fun and have a good time and do your job. [But] it's still different. Gagne's not going to throw up and in, and I'm not going to throw up and in on guys. I want to get them out just as bad, but I'm not going to go inside and the ball gets away and breaks a guy's hand. You're just not going to do it.
"I'm not saying that the pitch [Giambi hit, a fastball] wouldn't be the same, but I probably would have tried to go in a little bit more. This is the type of game, you're not out there to hurt anybody. You're not out there trying to try to knock somebody down. You're just out there trying to get the job done."
It all left Baker a little stunned. The NL also led 5-1 after five innings before St. Louis' Woody Williams gave up two runs in the bottom of the sixth.
"It was a tough loss for us," he admitted.
But, Baker pointed out, it all added up to a great show for the fans.
"America got their money's worth," he said.
Mychael Urban is a national writer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.