Wed, Jul 16, 2003 - Page 20 News List

Stakes raised in 2003 All-Star game

AMERICAN BASEBALL Call it a sign of the times. With home-field advantage in the World Series at stake, signals and strategy are set to make a comeback in the summer All-Star showcase


New York Yankees' Hideki Matsui warms up in the batting cage during American League warmups on at US Cellular Field in Chicago, illinois, on Monday. The 74th All-Star Game takes place today.


Until now, Alex Rodriguez never had a reason to look down at the third-base coach in an All-Star game.

"In the past, we didn't have signs -- takes, hit-and-runs," the Texas shortstop said. "I guarantee you we'll be going over that. If it's the seventh or eighth innings, I know we're going to see some bunts laid down."

That was clear right away. At Monday's workout, Baltimore's Melvin Mora was the first player to take batting practice and he began his round with four straight bunts -- uncharacteristic for a guy hitting .349.

"You want an exhibition? Go to spring training," said St. Louis manager Tony La Russa, an NL coach. "This is meant as a competition, not an exhibition."

In fact, the wheels were spinning well before starters Esteban Loaiza and Jason Schmidt threw their first pitches Tuesday night at US Cellular Field.

Roger Clemens was added to the AL team, and Barry Bonds was moved from the outfield to the NL's designated hitter.

Clemens recently earned his 300th victory and this was a nice way to honor him in what likely is his final season. But the well-rested Rocket was ready to pitch and took the place of Barry Zito, who worked eight innings Sunday.

Zito seemed startled to find out he'd been bumped off the active roster. Still, the reigning AL Cy Young winner added, "I think Roger Clemens is a blue chip name. I think, yeah, he deserves to go out here."

Because last year's All-Star game ended in a 7-7, 11-inning tie when the teams ran out of pitchers, the commissioner's office increased the rosters to make sure each side had 12 pitchers available -- and wanted each of them to be ready.

NL manager Dusty Baker, meanwhile, tinkered with his lineup.

Bonds, elected by fans to start in the outfield, will DH, while Jim Edmonds will play center, between Albert Pujols and Gary Sheffield.

Baker had to get approval from the commissioner's office to move Bonds, and admitted he initially wasn't sure he'd get it. Bonds said he was fine with the switch.

"It's a good thing. We didn't have a center fielder," the San Francisco slugger said. "Nobody knew the rules."

Certainly there was more of an edge going into this game because of what it means. Coming off last year's disastrous tie at Milwaukee, baseball wanted a way to juice up the All-Star game, and tying it to the World Series was its solution.

"I don't doubt there is a better way to determine home-field advantage," La Russa said. "But maybe the game had lost a little in the luster. If this adds a little extra, that's fine."

La Russa speaks from experience. Managing the AL team in 1991, he ordered up the last sacrifice bunt by a position player in an All-Star game. He sent up Ozzie Guillen to pinch-hit for Cal Ripken -- who already had hit a three-run homer and a single on his way to winning the game's MVP award -- and called for a bunt.

Right after Guillen did his job, Rob Dibble followed with the last intentional walk in All-Star play, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. Rafael Palmeiro drew the walk and Harold Baines followed with a sacrifice fly in the AL's 4-2 win at Toronto.

"It was an insurance run we needed," La Russa recalled.

A-Rod figures there might be more of the same this time with Anaheim's Mike Scioscia managing the AL.

"I know Mike and the way he loves small ball," Rodriguez said. "Mike knows what home filed is all about. It got him a world championship."

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