SEATTLE -- On the night when all of baseball gathered to honor him, Cal Ripken delivered his own All-Star sendoff.
Ripken upstaged Ichiro Suzuki, Barry Bonds and every other big name in the ballpark, hitting a home run and winning the MVP award in his final All-Star appearance to lead the American League over the Nationals 4-1 Tuesday night.
What began as a trip down memory lane - Ripken started at shortstop, at Alex Rodriguez's suggestion - wound up with him taking a glorious trip around the bases.
"It's just been a great deal of fun my whole career. The All-Star games, I've been able to go to a whole lot of them, but this is by far the most special," Ripken said.
His homer easily was the most thrilling moment in a game that saw Roger Clemens finally face Mike Piazza. There was no drama there, though someone was later hit by the shattered barrel of a bat - NL honorary manager Tommy Lasorda.
Derek Jeter and Magglio Ordonez connected for consecutive home runs as the AL won its fifth in a row. Suzuki, the most popular player in Seattle these days, singled and stole a base as the AL cut its deficit to 40-31-1.
But, it was Ripken's night.
At 40, Ripken supplanted Stan Musial as the oldest player to homer in an All-Star game. Ripken also became the first AL player to twice win the All-Star MVP trophy, his other coming in 1991 when he also homered.
After stepping out of the batter's box and waving his helmet to acknowledge a standing ovation, Ripken hit Chan Ho Park's first pitch of the third inning over the left-field fence.
"I swung and made good contact and the ball went out of the ballpark and I felt like I was flying around the bases," Ripken said.
Tony Gwynn, who will retire with Ripken after this season, applauded from the opposing dugout and NL starting pitcher Curt Schilling caught the moment on his camcorder.
Ever the reluctant hero, Ripken had to be coaxed out of the dugout by the sellout crowd of 47,364 at Safeco Field.
Even a freight train running on the tracks beyond the center-field wall seemed to sound a tribute to baseball's old blue eyes - a two-horn blast right after the Baltimore third baseman homered.
Later, the game was stopped as every All-Star player joined commissioner Bud Selig in a six-minute ceremony before the sixth inning to say goodbye to Ripken and Gwynn. The ceremony came near third base - Ripken's No. 8 was on the bag.
"It's been a great run," Ripken told the fans.
Two years ago, in baseball's last All-Star lovefest, Ripken and Gwynn supported Ted Williams when he threw the first ball at Fenway Park.
A fitting farewell, for sure, for Ripken. Many credit him for saving baseball after a strike wiped out the 1994 World Series, highlighted by him going on to break Lou Gehrig's consecutive games record.
His brown hair now turned gray, Ripken played in his 18th All-Star game and spent the final innings watching with his son.
Ripken's first All-Star game came in 1983, when Johnny Bench and Carl Yastrzemski played for the last time.
Gwynn, added as an honorary member, did not get to hit. The eight-time NL batting champion from San Diego said he was more than content to follow the festivities from the dugout.
Freddy Garcia, one of a record eight Seattle players who appeared in the game, was the winning pitcher and teammate Kazuhiro Sasaki completed the three-hitter and got the save. Park took the loss.
Ivan Rodriguez singled home an unearned run in the AL fifth off Mike Hampton.
Jeter, part of the new breed of shortstops who have carried on Ripken's lineage, and Ordonez homered off Jon Lieber in the sixth.
Ryan Klesko hit a sacrifice fly in the sixth for the NL's run.
At 38, Clemens was the oldest pitcher to start for the AL since Early Wynn, who was 39 in 1959. ... In an NL lineup change announced prior to the game, Luis Gonzalez moved to center field and Sammy Sosa shifted to right. ... Next year's All-Star game will be at Miller Park in Milwaukee, followed by Comiskey Park in Chicago (2003) and Enron Field in Houston (2004). ... There were a record four rookies at this year's game - Suzuki, Albert Pujols, Ben Sheets and Jimmy Rollins. ... Johnson's fourth All-Star start was one short of the record shared by Lefty Gomez, Robin Roberts and Don Drysdale. ... The NL won the All-Star game in Seattle, 7-6 in 1979 at the Kingdome. Lee Mazzilli hit a pinch-homer in the eighth inning and drew a bases-loaded walk in the ninth. Mazzilli, now a Yankees' coach, was in the AL dugout for this game. ... Willie Mays, Gary Carter and Steve Garvey each won two All-Star MVP awards.
|How they scored|
Baltimore's Cal Ripken Jr. homered to left
Texas' Ivan Rodriguez singles to center, Oakland's Jason Giambi scored
San Diego's Ryan Klesko hits a sacrifice fly to center, San Francisco's Jeff Kent scored
New York's Derek Jeter homered to center
Chicago's Magglio Ordonez homered to right center