Nomo, Johnson live up to hype, but too briefly NL makes a little go a long way


ARLINGTON, Texas -- He passed through, well, like a tornado. Same as his nickname.

Two innings of whirling, beguiling pitching, and Hideo Nomo was gone. Two innings, six batters, three strikeouts and nary an American Leaguer to second base.

Like a sushi appetizer, apparently this will have to do. Three plane loads of Japanese media traveled 6,400 miles, and Nomo's All-Star debut was over last night in a TV blink.

To us humble, perspiring observers, Nomo of the Los Angeles Dodgers showed a great fastball and a diabolical forkball. In a teasing, two-inning sort of way, he somehow managed to live up to advance billing, considerable that it was.

But how do you compare zeros?

American League starter Randy Johnson of the Seattle Mariners was equally as effective, equally as diabolical. Together, they set the tenor of this long-awaited night at The Ballpark in Arlington.

We should have seen this coming. In the All-Star Game, pedigree pitching stops studly hitting. Most of the time, anyway.

Once Nomo and Johnson turned the game over to mortals, a relative orgy of offense ensued. Gasp. By the sixth inning, the National League even had a hit.

Blame it on the hype. With all due apologies to Frank Thomas, Jeff Conine and company, this 66th All-Star Game seemed to lose its global intrigue once Nomo and Johnson left the scene.

We saw just enough of "Tornado Boy," Nomo -- visualize his pitching motion -- to want more.

"It was a lot of fun, as far as matching up with Nomo and all the talk about what it would all be about," Johnson said. "First inning, I was excited. I was amp'd up a little bit. In the second, I was a lot more comfortable."

Johnson, too, faced only six batters. A leadoff walk to Lenny Dykstra was snuffed when Ivan Rodriguez erased him stealing. Johnson finished the first inning by striking out Barry Bonds, and he then fanned Fred McGriff and Ron Gant back-to-back to end the second.

Kansas City's Kevin Appier spelled Johnson with two more dominating, hitless innings.

We should have seen this coming.

"There's definitely an edge to pitchers in this game, because they know what they're doing," San Diego's Tony Gwynn said.

Reviews of Nomo were mostly respectful. Cleveland's Albert Belle struck out against him and, in surly fashion, refused to comment. Gee, you're a credit to your country, Albert.

Cal Ripken managed to reach out and spank a line drive, caught by Gwynn in right, and felt half-grateful.

"I think I should feel fortunate that I didn't get to two strikes and see the split-fingered pitch," Ripken said.

Only Cleveland second baseman Carlos Baerga felt the urge to burst Nomo's bubble. His ground single to right was the only hit off Tornado-san.

"I faced him in Japan, and he was a better pitcher than I saw today," said Baerga, who played in the U.S.-Japan series. "I don't think he had his stuff. He was more nasty in Japan than he was tonight.

"The second time at-bat, I think we can figure out how to lay off his split-finger. If he had kept pitching, we were going to get him."

This is the way you talk, perhaps, when you go 3-for-3 in the All-Star Game and your team is 12 games ahead in first.

The rest of us Nomo-maniacs thought he was as effective as eel stew.

"There was a lot of buildup for Nomo, and rightfully so," said Johnson, a weather disturbance of a different sort. "Hopefully, he will continue to have good success.

"I hope this will open the door to more foreign players to come to the U.S. I'd like to think that someday, we'll have a USA team like they have for basketball -- a Dream Team for baseball."

If anything, though, international relations were amply served by Nomo's appearance at this game. It might not affect the sticker price of a Toyota, but Nomo proved quiet, cooperative and polite.

"With this many fans, it's very special," he said through his interpreter. "It's nice to see the support."

Nomo seemed to relish the moment. Before returning to the bullpen to warm up, he allowed himself to jog to the third base line and be introduced with his National League teammates.

Later, he stood at the edge of the outfield and slapped hands with the long line of 160 children in replica uniforms who participated in the pre-game ceremony. He smiled. They smiled.

And there was something a tad poignant in that -- baseball's immediate future greeting its next generation.

The visit was all too brief.

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