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It's already classic hit, before 1st pitch NL, Gaston's A-Jays both have losing score to settle


Somebody's luck has to change tonight when the stars come out at Camden Yards. The 64th All-Star Game brings together two teams that both could argue that the law of averages is leaning in their direction.

The National League has lost the past five years in a row, which would leave room to wonder if they are about due to turn things around.

The Toronto Blue Jays, who are representing the American League this year, have lost 10 of their past 11 games, and they can't keep losing forever.

Blue Jays manager Cito Gaston has taken a lot of heat for putting together an AL roster that includes seven members of his own team, but it isn't a bad-looking lineup. Four of the first five American League hitters are from Toronto, including one -- designated hitter Paul Molitor -- who wasn't even on the All-Star ballot.

"I took six world champions and one Hall of Famer," Gaston said. "I don't think I have to apologize to anyone."

This kind of thing makes for great copy, especially in Baltimore (The City that Reads Box Scores), but Gaston really shouldn't have to apologize for the selection process. He was the manager who won it all last year, which means that he won the right to play a favorite here and there. It happens every year.

Local fans were hoping to see catcher Chris Hoiles make his first All-Star appearance after hitting 18 home runs in the first half. Much of the outrage, however, centered on the omission of former Oriole Mickey Tettleton, whose league-leading total of 24 home runs was only good enough for a trip home.

"It's a puzzle," Gaston said. "You have to take a player from each team. I feel that is a good rule, but I think that everyone who is here deserves to be here."

The makeup of the National League team also caused its share of controversy, but the focus shifted away from the selection process as soon as the players who were chosen took the field for yesterday's All-Star workout.

What kind of game will it be?

The 1992 midsummer classic in San Diego featured a record hit parade, even though it was played in twilight. The 1987 game was supposed to be a slugfest -- Remember the "live ball" controversy? -- but it took 13 innings for either team to score.

Tonight's game will be played under hitter-friendly conditions. It will begin well after sundown (8:37 p.m.) in a ballpark that doesn't figure to present a major challenge for the wide array of big hitters who have converged on Baltimore.

But who can tell?

California Angels left-hander Mark Langston has been named to start for the American League, his selection directly related to the number of big left-handed hitters in the National League starting lineup. NL manager Bobby Cox named Philadelphia Phillies left-hander Terry Mulholland to start for his team, no doubt to make the short right-field porch less accessible to the likes of Roberto Alomar, Ken Griffey and John Olerud.

But there is nowhere to hide when almost every hitter in either lineup can put the ball in the seats or onto the flag court. The question is whether someone can hit it off the B&O; warehouse in a game situation. The conditions have never been better.

The ball has been flying out of Oriole Park during the recent heat wave and it continued to carry well during yesterday's workout.

Texas Rangers star Juan Gonzalez hit a ball off the facing of the upper deck in left field and Ken Griffey became the first player to hit the warehouse during the Home Run Derby. Hall of Fame inductee Reggie Jackson hit one into the Eutaw Street corridor in an impromptu afternoon exhibition of his still awe-inspiring stroke. Heck, actor Tom Selleck hit one onto the flag court during the celebrity hitting contest.

The All-Star Game may not incite the full competitive spirit that a postseason game might, but there is a measure of pride involved when the best of the best get together to display their skills for an international audience.

The American League has dominated the game in recent years, winning every year since the National League pulled out a 2-0 victory in the 13-inning, who-said-the-ball-was-juiced marathon at the Oakland Coliseum in 1987.

No one is going to go home devastated by a losing effort, but even the modern team-hopping players of the free-agent era get into the league rivalry.

"It's very serious," said NL second baseman Ryne Sandberg. "Once the game starts, every guy wants to go out and win it. It's been a few years, so it may mean even more to me. The American League has been putting it to us for the last few years."

Cox will be managing the National League for the second year in a row, but he changed horses this time.

He sent Braves starter Tom Glavine to the mound last year and watched the American League reel off seven straight hits in the first inning. Glavine, who was making his second straight All-Star start, went on to set an All-Star record by allowing nine hits in 1 2/3 innings.

Glavine is on the All-Star pitching staff for the third straight year, but he was not seriously considered for the starting assignment. The decision came down to Mulholland and San Francisco Giants pitcher John Burkett.

Burkett was the first major-leaguer to win 13 games this year, but the decision to start Mulholland (9-3) was based on scheduling considerations.

"The key in selecting Terry Mulholland as the starting pitcher is that he'll be pitching on four days' rest and he's a very, very fine pitcher," Cox said. "He does everything you want a pitcher to do. John Burkett was very deserving, as was John Smoltz and Darryl Kile and some guys like Jose Rijo who aren't even here. Mulholland's ERA is low and he's pitching on four days' rest. Burkett would be pitching on two. Terry won't have to pitch again until Saturday."

Gaston also had a tough choice for the starting assignment, but the New York Yankees helped him make it. Yankees manager Buck Showalter asked Gaston not to use left-hander Jimmy Key for more than one inning because he is scheduled to pitch Friday.

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