ATLANTA -- The caterer for your dinner party doesn't show up. Your best man cancels at the last moment. The stars are no-shows at your All-Star Game.
What to do?
If you're Joe Torre and the American League All-Stars, you turn to Derek Jeter and ride his bat to a fourth straight All-Star Game win, a 6-3 decision over the National League before a sellout crowd of 51,323 at Turner Field on Tuesday night.
Missing a collection of the game's biggest stars, the 71st edition of the midsummer classic was like a state dinner without the royalty. But Jeter, the New York Yankees' All-World shortstop, kept a national TV audience glued to its sets with a 3-for-3 evening, including a two-run single in the fourth inning that proved to be the game's decisive hit.
"It's tough to believe," said Jeter, the first Yankee named the game's MVP. "Look at all the Yankee greats over the years and you figure one of them would win one. In due time, when I have time to reflect on it, I'll realize how special it is."
With many of the game's best hitters sitting out with injuries, both lineups were as flat as last Thanksgiving's cider. Seven of the 16 elected starters were absent, leaving the field to the best of both league's understudies, who produced 19 hits -- all but four of which were singles -- but also committed four errors.
"I believe there should be two All-Star Games," said AL starter David Wells, offering his solution to the missing stars problem. "We should get a week off, have two All-Star Games, and that way we can enjoy a little bit more time off."
NBC got the game it wanted -- until the ninth. The AL, ahead 3-2 thanks to Jeter's contributions, put the game out of reach with three runs against San Diego Padres closer Trevor Hoffman.
With the exception of Jeter, Atlanta's stars shone brightest. Chipper Jones was 3-for-3, including the game's only homer. Andres Galarraga, greeted by the night's loudest ovations, had a hit, Andruw Jones contributed an RBI single and Tom Glavine worked a scoreless fifth.
"It was awesome," Chipper Jones said. "It's every little boy's dream. It's not often that a player gets to play on his home field in an All-Star Game, much less start. To go out there and hit a home run, I can't explain it, it was something I'll never forget."
Wells and Randy Johnson, the NL starter, were dominant. Johnson, who was limited to only one inning after striking out 13 A's on Sunday, needed only eight pitches to take care of the AL.
Wells was equally effective, working two shutout innings while throwing 23 strikes with 27 pitches. The only hits he allowed were harmless singles -- Jones' bouncer through the middle in the first and Jim Edmonds' roller through the right side in the second.
With both starters gone, the hitters went to work. The AL punished Kevin Brown for his wildness in the third, with Carl Everett following Jeter's single, Williams' fielder's choice and a walk to Giambi, loading the bases, with another walk to force in Jeter with the game's first run.
But the lead disappeared with one swing of Chipper Jones' bat in the bottom of the third. He launched James Baldwin's 2-and-0 delivery into the left-center field seats for his first All-Star Game home run, becoming the 13th player in All-Star history to homer in his home ballpark.
The lead see-sawed in the AL's favor in the fourth. Jeter followed shortstop Barry Larkin's error with a bases-loaded single against Al Leiter to make it 3-1.
"We've been watching (Jeter) do that ever since he got to the big leagues," NL manager Bobby Cox said. "There's really only three great shortstops right now and he's one of them."
In the fifth, Jones followed a walk to Gary Sheffield with his third hit, then Andruw Jones capped a terrific evening by Braves hitters with a run-scoring single against Jason Isringhausen to make it 3-2.
What figured to be a spine-tingling ninth was muffled by the AL's bats. Singles by Ray Durham, Nomar Garciaparra and Matt Lawton produced a 4-2 lead, then Magglio Ordonez's sacrifice fly and Jose Vidro's error scored two extra runs.
"It's a situation where you have the best players in baseball here," Jeter said. "You want to have fun, but you also want to do well. But the No. 1 priority is just to come out and give the fans a good show."
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