07/16/2003 12:34 AM ET
White Sox play part in AL victory
AL starter shines in Chicago
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By Scott Merkin / MLB.com
CHICAGO -- Carl Everett called the game-winning shot, Magglio Ordonez caught the final out and the American League claimed home-field advantage in the World Series with a 7-6 victory before a U.S. Cellular Field record of 47,609 at Tuesday night's 74th All-Star Game.
Oh, yeah. The White Sox also featured Esteban Loaiza, the American League's starting pitcher. Loaiza, the most improbable success story of 2003, threw two scoreless innings, allowing a harmless bloop single to Jim Edmonds in the first.
But it was the reaction before Loaiza even reached the bullpen that truly moved the veteran right-hander. As Loaiza walked from the dugout towards left field for pregame warmups, the crowd rose to its feet and gave Loaiza a standing ovation.
When he was announced as part of the starting lineup, Loaiza received a thunderous ovation only rivaled by the one given to Ordonez. Loaiza had never received close to that level of applause previously.
Then again, this is a year of firsts for the former journeyman pitcher, who leads the American League with a 2.21 ERA.
"All of my family was next to the bullpen and I was concentrating on what I had to do," said Loaiza, of his reaction to the crowd's ovation upon his introduction. "They were hollering and yelling and all excited, too.
"I was just happy to get the start. I really can't believe it.
"Walking to the bullpen was a big moment for me," Loaiza added. "I never thought I would get the standing ovation. It will be in my mind for a long time."
During the past few days, Loaiza had been asked numerous times what would happen when he faced powerful hitters such as Barry Bonds, Albert Pujols, Gary Sheffield and Todd Helton. Loaiza answered all questions on the mound.
Pujols flew to center on Loaiza's cut fastball, the pitch that almost single-handedly brought him the starting job in the All-Star Game and 11 first-half victories. Bonds flew out deep to right on a fastball inside, Sheffield popped out to first and Helton was Loaiza's only strikeout victim.
It was a 2-2 pitch to leadoff hitter Edgar Renteria, which he grounded to short, that really settled down a jittery Loaiza.
"I realized that I had to concentrate on my pitches a little more," said Loaiza of the first batter he faced in All-Star competition. Loaiza threw 27 pitches, before exiting after two innings. "When I was done with my two innings, I wanted to jump and scream. The best thing I could think of was to tip my cap."
"He's a different pitcher right now," added Renteria, who he went against Loaiza when he pitched for Pittsburgh.
Ordonez entered the game in the seventh, as a pinch-hitter for Ichiro Suzuki, and popped out to first against Houston closer Billy Wagner in his only at-bat. With the American League ahead by one run in the ninth inning and two outs, Ordonez caught Rafael Furcal's deep fly ball to right about two steps from the wall.
The save went to Keith Foulke, who was the White Sox closer as recently as last season. He was shipped to Oakland during the offseason for Billy Koch.
But it was Everett who had the greatest influence of the trio, even though most of the country probably never found out. In his one at-bat in the eighth inning, pinch-hitting for Edgar Martinez, Everett bounced out to Richie Sexson at first.
Before the inning ended, though, Texas rookie Hank Blalock came to the plate against Los Angeles closer Eric Gagne with a runner on third and two outs. Everett took Blalock and Michael Young under his wing in Texas, so he knows a thing or two about the young third baseman.
When Gagne fell behind 3-1 on Blalock, Everett turned to Angels' reliever Brendan Donnelly and the Tigers Dimitri Young and predicted Blalock's game-winning blast. Moments later, Blalock turned Everett into the psychic center fielder, becoming the 12th player in All-Star history to hit a home run in his first game.
"Carl is the best, so I'm sure he would do that," said Blalock with a laugh of Everett's prediction. "We got along really well when he was in Texas. He's a great teammate to have."
Everett expressed the same complimentary sentiments about Blalock.
"He's a hungry kid, and not many fastballs will get by him," Everett said. "He doesn't care who's throwing. If you give him a pitch to hit, Hank will hit it.
"I turned to (Donnelly and Young) and said, 'If he throws him a fastball, it's over.' I love the kid, and he's a good listener. I feel good for him and (All-Star Game Most Valuable Player) Garret Anderson. I feel good myself, and I really didn't do anything."
Everett also claims that he called Anderson's two-run home run in the sixth and Jason Giambi's blast off of Wagner in the seventh. So, if Everett knows so much, what does he see for the White Sox in the second half of the season, a run that begins at home Thursday against Detroit with the White Sox seven games behind Kansas City?
"We need to improve our offense and use our bats more because the pitching has been there," Everett said. "If we put up some strong offensive numbers, the division is ours for the taking."
A division title might change the fans' reaction toward White Sox manager Jerry Manuel, who received a negative response from the home crowd that was reserved primarily for the Cubs' contingency. It was the exact opposite of the two or three standing ovations received by Loaiza.
Loaiza was disappointed to hear the jeers sent in Manuel's direction. But he will never forget the support at his first All-Star Game or the final outcome.
"If they booed Jerry, it's sad because he's done a lot for the White Sox," Loaiza said. "Hopefully, we will turn things around in the second half, and they will start cheering him.
"Those ovations gave me goosebumps and are things I will never forget. But now, I have to focus on my next start (Sunday) and continue pitching like I have in the first half."
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to approval by Major League Baseball or its clubs.