BY TIM SULLIVAN
The Cincinnati Enquirer
DENVER -- This year's All-Star Game was a chicken-and-egg proposition. Was it the thin air that caused all the scoring, or the thinner pitching?
Barry Bonds is greeted by Mark McGwire and Devon White after his three-run homer in the fifth inning.
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The American League outslugged the Nationals Tuesday night 13-8 in a game played at altitude and also C level. The best arms in the business were battered for 31 hits in the highest-scoring All-Star Game ever played. The go-ahead run, appropriately enough, scored on a wild pitch.
"This was a different kind of All-Star Game, with a lot of scoring," said Baltimore's Roberto Alomar, the Most Valuable Player. "But in this ballpark, you kind of expect it."
This was the kind of game you come to expect in an expansion year, with experienced hitters mauling overmatched middle relief. Except in this case the middle relief consisted of Cy Young winners such as Tom Glavine and Roger Clemens, and the cream of big-league closers.
Lots of casualties
Pitching may be 90 percent of the game in other places, but in Denver it is what infantry lieutenants were in World War I: cannon fodder. On a humid July evening, the ball carries at Coors Field like a mortar shell. Inevitably, there are casualties.
Tuesday night, they included Glavine, Clemens, Cleveland's precocious Bartolo Colon and Montreal's unfortunate Ugueth Urbina. Six National League pitchers allowed at least one run, including Jeff Shaw, making his first appearance as a Los Angeles Dodger. The game also featured three errors, a passed ball and an appalling indifference toward aggressive baserunners.
McGwire, striking out in the third inning, was 0-for-2 with a walk.
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"I was in Colorado Springs in 1989 and the one thing I forgot is how deep outfielders play because of how deep the ball carries," said American League manager Mike Hargrove. "I thought a lot of balls fell in that normally wouldn't."
And then there were some balls that couldn't have been caught with a fishing net. Alomar and Alex Rodriguez homered for the American League. Barry Bonds hit a three-run homer off the San Francisco Giants sign hanging from the upper deck that gave the National League a 6-4 lead in the bottom of the fifth inning.
"I think the pitchers here knew if we got the ball up, we were going to be embarrassed," said American League starter David Wells.
Bonds' blast made Colon the pitcher of record for the American League. A three-run rally in the top of the sixth made Colon the winning pitcher. It was that kind of night.
"He had to give up a three-run homer to get the win," Hargrove said, both amused and relieved. "It was a bit of a double-edged sword."
Strangely, the strategy early in the game suggested the teams were expecting a tight pitching duel. Wells and National League starter Greg Maddux both pitched two shutout innings that may have misled the managers about the carnage to come. For in the bottom of the third inning, with two on and no one out, National League manager Jim Leyland allowed Glavine to bat for himself against Clemens, and ordered a sacrifice bunt.
Then, after Clemens plunked Craig Biggio with an 0-2 pitch, Hargrove moved his infield in for a play at the plate instead of playing the slugfest percentage percentage and looking for a double play. Tony Gwynn foiled this strategy with a sharp grounder to Alomar's right that might have gotten the American League out of the inning if the infield had been back. But Alomar was forced to backhand the ball, and it glanced off his glove and into center field for two runs.
What followed was more typical -- big hitters swinging from their heels; third-base coaches getting arm-weary from waving runners around.
"In some ways, it was a Coors Field type game," Leyland said. "You saw some balls bloop in, freak hits, guys had to play deep. Then they hit some balls out of the ballpark."
It was not much like an All-Star Game at all.
Enquirer columnist Tim Sullivan welcomes your E-mail. Message him at firstname.lastname@example.org.