07/16/2003 2:12 AM ET
Blalock locks spot in All-Star lore
Ranger's late-game, long-ball thrill won't be forgotten
By Damon P. Young / MLB.com
CHICAGO -- Until he entered the batter's box Tuesday night at U.S. Cellular Field, the best moment for Rangers third baseman Hank Blalock had been watching Monday's Home Run Derby.
"That was really cool," Blalock said before the American League took batting practice Tuesday. "Watching it on TV, you see the guys chilling on the grass, and it was cool to be one of those guys. And it ended up being a pretty good ending."
So did the All-Star Game. Thanks to Blalock.
With one swing of the bat, Blalock blasted his way into the national media spotlight, providing the American League with a dramatic 7-6 victory over the National League in Tuesday night's All-Star Game at U.S. Cellular Field.
With a runner on second and two outs in the eighth inning, the Rangers third baseman belted a 3-1 fastball 427 feet to right-center off Los Angeles' Eric Gagne for a pinch-hit two-run homer, turning a one-run deficit into the decisive margin.
When Rafael Furcal's fly ball to right landed in Magglio Ordoñez's glove just in front of the right-field wall, the AL secured home field advantage for this year's World Series and Blalock's moment in All-Star history.
Not bad for a first time All-Star, who had even contemplated not getting into the ballgame.
"There's a lot of pressure on the managers to try to win the game, so if I'm one of the guys hung out to dry, that's OK. I understand," Blalock said before taking the field.
Instead Blalock was told to start getting ready to enter the game about halfway through.
"I'm always a guy, if I'm not in the starting lineup, I'm always antsy to get in the game. ... I was just staying loose and ended up getting called on obviously in the bottom of the eighth," Blalock noted.
"I knew (Gagne) had a good changeup. I never faced him before, but I knew he had a good changeup and obviously a good fastball. He threw me some changeups and a couple fastballs and I ended up hitting the fastball.
"It's really just sinking in now," he said. "It's an unbelievable feeling in my first All-Star Game to really get up there and make a difference for the American League."
In becoming the unlikely hero for the AL, Blalock earned the praise -- and potentially bigger gifts in October -- from all of his teammates.
"It was such a euphoric moment for everyone," said Alex Rodriguez, Blalock's Rangers teammate. "If he hits a homer with no one on in the first inning, it's pretty dramatic for him. With that situation, to win the game, with those ramifications and consequences, he can sit back in October with a smile and a beer and think about the impact he made."
"I'm sure whatever AL team makes it to the World Series will send Blalock a 12-pack of something -- especially if it goes to Game 7," added the Yankees' Jason Giambi, who also homered in the game. "We might vote him in a full share if we win. We have to make it there first."
At 22 years, 236 days of age, Blalock, the AL's youngest All-Star, became the youngest third baseman named to an All-Star team since Cleveland's Buddy Bell (21 years, 331 days) in 1973. He then became the first player to hit a pinch-hit home run in the All-Star Game since Jeff Conine did it in 1995 and the first player to homer in his first All-Star at-bat since Javy Lopez in 1997.
Hank Blalock watches his eighth-inning shot sail over the right-field wall for a two-run home run that lifted the AL to an All-Star Game win. (Ted S. Warren/AP)
Voted onto the AL roster by his peers, selected as the backup to Anaheim's Troy Glaus as a result of the players' balloting, Blalock's blast made the players look like geniuses.
"I think Hank is a cool San Diego boy and he'll never change," Rodriguez added. "He sees the ball and hits it, keeps it pretty simple. We can all take a little tip from that. ... This year, he's been phenomenal and obviously he's a special talent. We're very lucky to have him in Texas."
Veteran Seattle pitcher Jamie Moyer, the oldest first-timer at this year's All-Star Game, was impressed.
"For a young kid to come in here for the first time in a big situation facing Gagne and hit a two-run homer, that's pretty phenomenal," the lefty said. "That goes to show you the type of ballplayer he is."
But, true to his form, Blalock later downplayed the significance of his blast.
"I'm sure something will happen in the next couple years and they'll forget about it."
Damon P. Young is an editorial producer for MLB.com This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.