07/11/2007 11:43 AM ET
Ichiro thrills All-Star crowd
Ichiro Suzuki showed off his hitting skill and his speed in Tuesday night's All-Star Game in San Francisco, but his teammates think he has another skill that is underappreciated: power.
Ichiro Suzuki is congratulated by Derek Jeter after his inside-the-park homer. (AP)
Ichiro hit the first inside-the-park homer in All-Star Game history en route to winning the MVP Award.
"I thought it was going over the fence," Ichiro told the Seattle Times about his home run. "When it didn't, I got kind of bummed out."
Mariners teammate J.J. Putz was thrilled with Ichiro's exploits.
"As soon as I saw the ball kick out, I was thinking, 'You know what? He might have a chance,'" said Putz. "It's like he hit another gear when he went around second. That's what (third base coach Ron) Washington saw."
Ichiro made it home standing up on the play. Meanwhile, Putz thinks Ichiro should enter the Home Run Derby and show off his over-the-fence power.
"I would put my whole year's salary on it that he would win," Putz said of Ichiro winning the Home Run Derby. "You've seen him in batting practice hit 12 out in a row. And not just wall scrapers, but peppering the Hit It Here Cafe off the windows seven, eight times in a row. But he says he doesn't want to disrespect the big power hitters."
Haren steps on the big stage close to home: In his first year as an All-Star, Dan Haren was the starting pitcher for the American League. Manager Jim Leyland indicated that the game being played in nearby San Francisco played a part in naming the Oakland ace his starter. That made it extra special for Haren, who lives in the Bay Area.
"I know there were a lot of deserving candidates," Haren told the San Francisco Chronicle. "I could never imagine sitting up here and getting the start so close to Oakland, where I reside. ... Oakland A's baseball isn't out there much, so it will be great to wear the gray uniform with 'Oakland' across the chest and represent the organization."
Haren became the sixth Oakland A's pitcher to start the All-Star Game, joining Vida Blue, Catfish Hunter, Mark Mulder, Dave Stewart and Bob Welch.
"It's a tribute to the A's, the GM and the organization," Haren said. "Obviously, they know where they're doing. I never thought I'd be in this situation."
A's general manager Billy Beane refused to take any credit for Haren's success.
"This is a testament to Dan Haren and how great he has been for us this year," Beane said. "He has turned into an unquestioned No. 1 starter. This is no surprise -- it's well deserved."
A year later, Reyes gets his chance to start: When Jose Reyes took the field Wednesday night as a starter for the National League in the All-Star Game, it allowed him to forget about last season. The New York Mets' shortstop had to miss last year's game, watching instead from the dugout with seven stitches in his left pinkie.
"It definitely bothered him not being in the lineup -- especially since both of us, we've done a lot of 'firsts' together," Mets third baseman and All-Star teammate David Wright told the New York Daily News. "That was going to be our first All-Star Game to start next to each other. It's something he wanted to be a part of. You could see it in his eyes and the way he acted that he was disappointed he couldn't play last year."
Reyes, who was 3-for-4 with a stolen base and a run scored Tuesday night, was voted by the fans to be the starter at shortstop, proof that he is popular with the ticket-buying public. But Reyes also has plenty of fans among his peers, including St. Louis Cardinals first baseman Albert Pujols.
"He's a kid I really enjoy to watch and play against because I can see from the last three years how much he's growing into this game," Pujols said. "He's going to be an All-Star forever, hopefully, if he can stay healthy. He's going to put up some big numbers. It's unbelievable to see him from three years ago when he was a young player not really playing the game the right way and now how much he's grown. It's unbelievably exciting to see him do it."
Reyes has a batting average of .307, which is seven points higher than his on-base percentage two years ago. And his 46 steals put him within 20 of the club record set by Roger Cedeno in 1999. His ability to get on base and then use his speed has disrupted a host of opposing pitchers.
"He single-handedly kills us when he gets on base," Phillies center fielder Aaron Rowand said. "You know he's going, and you know you're not going to stop him. I told (pitcher) Jamie (Moyer), why even 'pick' over? You know he's going to be safe anyway. Just let him go. You know what I mean? He just causes havoc. He changes the way the pitchers pitch to the hitters behind (Reyes in the lineup). When the pitcher is worried about the guy on first base with that kind of speed, he's not concentrating on making good pitches to the guy at the plate."
Same guy, different results for Beckett: What a difference one year can make. Josh Beckett is currently 12-2 with a 3.44 ERA and was an American League All-Star.
But don't ask Beckett why he is doing so much better this season as compared to last, his first year with the Red Sox.
"I'm pretty much doing everything the same," Beckett told the Boston Globe. "There's not a whole lot of rocket science going into this."
Beckett has lowered the amount of home runs yielded this year, issuing only six so far. He also has cut down on his walks, with 21 compared to a career-high 74 last year.
"The guy I heard people talk about last year and saw on video, I don't see that pitcher," says Sox pitching coach John Farrell.
Beckett still features his 96 mph fastball. But he has also become more of a pitcher and not just a thrower as he is using his full assortment of pitches more often. That may be the biggest reason for his turnaround this season.
"Josh has allowed himself to go deeper into games by being more effective with his pitches," says Tampa Bay outfielder Dustan Mohr, who played for the Sox last year. "He's using what he needs when he needs it and not just relying on one thing and flashing the other things."
Beckett, who pitched two scoreless innings in Tuesday night's All-Star Game and earned the win for the American League, said he learned from his struggles on the mound last season, and teammate Mike Lowell believes the right-hander has also adjusted to pitching in the American League after starting his career in the National League.
"The AL is a more offensive league," said Lowell, who came to the Red Sox from Florida with Beckett. "You get to the 8-hole in the National League with the pitcher on deck and it makes things a lot easier."
Polanco took a young Pujols under his wing: Back in 2001, Albert Pujols and Placido Polanco were teammates with the St. Louis Cardinals -- Polanco a veteran and Pujols a virtually unknown rookie. It was at that time that Polanco became a sort of mentor for Pujols, and the two have remained friends ever since.
"He took me under his wing when I was a rookie," Pujols told the St. Louis Post Dispatch. "As a rookie, you make a lot of mistakes. But the first thing he helped me with, I wasn't even in the big leagues yet. It was in Spring Training.
"He opened the door for me and my wife (Dierde). She was six months pregnant with A.J. He gave me a place to stay (in Polanco's house) and that is something I will never forget.
"There's not too many people who can do that without really knowing you. That's the kind person he is. He helped me out and then I made the club and he took care of me with the rules and what I had to do as a rookie and what I didn't have to do.
"He's my best friend."
Polanco, when told how much Pujols to this day appreciates what Polanco did for him, could only smile. "We are brothers," he said.
When the tarp flew, Phillies players knew they had to react: After watching a member of the Colorado Rockies grounds crew sail through the air then end up under the tarp during a storm on Sunday, several members of the Philadelphia Phillies decided they'd seen enough and proceeded to run on the field to offer their assistance.
"The guy might have died," Greg Dobbs told MLB.com. "He was trapped under there. We were watching and once it got to a point, we were all like, 'We gotta do something.'"
Aaron Rowand, Chase Utley, Michael Bourn, Jimmy Rollins, Adam Eaton, Cole Hamels and Shane Victorino were also among those made their way onto the field, each of them fighting their own battle with the tarp and with Mother Nature.
"You see something like that, you get worried that somebody is going to get hurt," said Victorino. "It was funny to see us out there trying to pull the tarp and act like we know what we're doing."
Head groundskeeper Mark Razum was glad to accept the help, no matter how out-of-the-ordinary it might have been.
"It was incredible," he said. "They literally grabbed it and took over. It changes your outlook on a baseball player. It was overwhelming to see the guys who were actually playing in the game help out. Maybe a bench guy, but it was the starting pitcher, the starting lineup."
Eaton admitted it was a struggle.
"It wasn't easy, because it was wet at that point," he said. "Three went underneath, one guy came out and I was like, 'Where's those other two people?' Then I saw their arms come out and their eyes were as big as plates."
Victorino said that he and his teammates didn't really think too much before running onto the field.
"We didn't know what we were doing, but we knew we had to help," he said. "At first, we were pulling the tarp toward home plate, and a guy was yelling for us to pull it the other way. We helped and watched a couple of guys go for a joy ride. We didn't want anybody to get suffocated or trapped. [Getting hurt] never crossed my mind.
"And we won."
Teixeira ready to return: When play resumes after the All-Star break, expect to see Mark Teixeira back at first base for the Texas Rangers. Out the past month with a strained left quadriceps, Teixeira will play for Double-A Frisco Wednesday on a rehab assignment before joining the Rangers Friday in California and face the Angels.
"The only thing left is to just make sure I can go through a whole game with no bumps in the road," Teixeira told the Dallas Morning News. "I've been swinging for two weeks. It's going to take me a couple of days to get my timing completely back, but I think I'm a good enough hitter to make adjustments."
While Teixeira's rehab assignment will be short, the club believes the slugger will be ready to play.
"He's been having good days in batting practice and good days moving around," manager Ron Washington said.
Teixeira said the only way for him to really get his timing down at the plate is by facing Major League pitching.
"Getting pitched around by a Double-A pitcher is not going to do anything for me," said Teixeira. "Hopefully, I'll face a guy who will want to challenge me, but it's not about the at-bats in that game, it's just about playing a full game."
-- Red Line Editorial