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Ichiro named All-Star Game MVP

Forget about a new contract. Someone should give Ichiro his own network series.

Sorry, "Can You Top This?" has been taken.

Never mind rising to the moment. Ichiro soared to the occasion Tuesday in the All-Star Game at AT&T Park, delivering the first inside-the-park home run in All-Star history ― a stand-up job ― and winning the game's Most Valuable Player honors.



Ichiro named All-Star Game MVP
By Larry Stone

SAN FRANCISCO ― Forget about a new contract. Someone should give Ichiro his own network series.

Sorry, "Can You Top This?" has been taken.

Never mind rising to the moment. Ichiro soared to the occasion Tuesday in the All-Star Game at AT&T Park, delivering the first inside-the-park home run in All-Star history ― a stand-up job ― and winning the game's Most Valuable Player honors.

As the American League won yet again, 5-4, Ichiro somehow managed to upstage Barry Bonds on his home turf.

At least until the ninth, when the National League made a furious comeback to try to steal the spotlight from Ichiro, ultimately falling short with the bases loaded.

Heck, Ichiro almost upstaged Willie Mays, but on a night when the Giants' living legend was given a moving pregame tribute, that would have required Ichiro to catch a fly ball with his teeth. And then spontaneously combust in the on-deck circle.

What Ichiro did would suffice nicely on the day he was already headline news as word leaked out of an impending five-year contract that will tickle $100 million, on one side of nine figures or the other.

For warmups, Ichiro showed the softer part of his arsenal in his first two at-bats, drilling a single to right field off Jake Peavy to start the game, then tweaking a nasty down-and-away pitch from Ben Sheets delicately into left for a single in the third.

Already insanely limber, Ichiro had loosened up even more than usual before the game by dancing around questions about his impending contract extension. He followed by walking a tightrope between not lying and not answering.

And after the game, cradling the Ted Williams MVP trophy and holding the keys to a new 2008 Chevy Tahoe hybrid, Ichiro was still dancing. Asked one last time if he was now committed to Seattle with a new contract, he replied, "You'll find out sometime."

Earlier, asked essentially the same question, he had said, "I haven't signed a 15-year contract with anybody," followed by a high-pitched laugh.

After Tuesday, Ichiro might want to renegotiate his renegotiation. He'll only be 48 in 15 years, and may have even lost a step by then.

Ichiro lost no steps sprinting around the bases in the fifth inning. He drove a ball off the right-field fence that sits at the base of Willie Mays Wall, which measures 24 feet in honor of Say Hey's famous number.

Mays may have been faster in his prime, but that would be a heck of a foot race. Mays, who doesn't get around too well now at age 76, took the scenic route before the game, cruising the field in a pinkish 1958 Eldorado convertible while tossing balls to the crowd. Ichiro relished being part of the ensemble of players who escorted Mays into the ballpark.

"To be able to be on the same field that he was at that moment is something I'll never forget for the rest of my life," Ichiro said. "I know this is something that is impossible, but I'd like to have watched Mr. Willie Mays play just once."

The National Leaguers might want to sit down with Willie to remind them how the NL used to dominate in his heyday. Now it's the American League that owns the event, wrapping up its 10th victory without a loss since 1996, interrupted only by the 2002 tie.

Ichiro's homer came off the Padres' Chris Young. The pitcher may have been distracted by the nearby presence of his sparring partner, the Cubs' Derrek Lee, who was playing first base that inning.

It was the same Chris Young who on Monday, when asked about pitching to Ichiro, had replied, "You're asking the wrong guy. I haven't figured it out. I'd say he's fun to play against, but he's more fun to watch."

The home run was a real blast, though maybe not to Young. The ball caromed near the 421-foot sign at one of those quirky junctions that mark right field here.

National League right fielder Ken Griffey Jr. ― who has lost a step, we can now confirm ― chased down the ball while Ichiro steamed around the bases. American League third-base coach Ron Washington, who had sent Alex Rodriguez to his demise in the fourth [gunned down by Griffey] didn't hesitate to wildly pinwheel Ichiro home.

"I thought it was going over the fence," Ichiro said. "When it didn't, I got kind of bummed out."

It was no contest. Ichiro cruised in standing up as his AL teammates went wild. When he reached the bench, he was pummeled, after which Manny Ramirez jokingly fanned Ichiro with his jacket.

"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 Washington saw."

In the dugout afterward, "It was kind of like shock," Putz said. "Like, 'Holy cow! Did that really just happen in an All-Star Game? An inside-the-park-homer?' It's awesome."

A day earlier, Putz had advocated for Ichiro to participate in the Home Run Derby.

"I would put my whole year's salary on it that he would win," Putz said then. "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."

What happened in the fifth inning wasn't quite what Putz had in mind. This wasn't Ichiro launching a splash shot into McCovey Cove, though he showed in batting practice he is fully capable.

It was Ichiro doing what he does best. Something a little offbeat and eye-opening, dashing and daring and different.

The sort of stuff we'll be seeing a lot of in Seattle over the next 5 ½ years.


Source: Seattle Times
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