ATLANTA - The 75th All-Star Game probably will be remembered most for all of the marquee players who were unable to take the field, but New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter will remember it a bit more fondly.
He'll remember how he was chosen to replace injured Alex Rodriguez in the starting lineup, and how he reeled off three hits against three of the toughest pitchers in the National League - the last of which drove home two crucial runs in a 6-3 American League victory at sold-out Turner Field.
It couldn't have been a more perfect evening for one of baseball's most popular players. Jeter's tiebreaking two-run single in the fourth inning came off the ace of the rival New York Mets (Al Leiter) in a stadium where the Yankees won the first two games of last year's World Series.
Though the American League scored three runs in the ninth inning to obscure the importance of his key hit, Jeter was named the game's Most Valuable Player - amazingly, the first member of the storied Yankees franM-W chise to win the honor.
"It'll probably take some time [to sink in]," Jeter said. "Right now, I'm very happy, obviously; but I think in due time, when I sit down and get a chance to reflect on it, then you realize how special it is. I wasn't aware that no Yankee had ever won the award, and it's kind of hard to believe."
He doubled off NL starter Randy Johnson in the first inning and singled off Reds reliever Danny Graves in the third before breaking a 1-1 tie against Leiter.
And once again, Jeter found himself in front of the national media, trying to deflect comparisons with all the great Yankees players who have come before him, even as he was getting used to the notion that he had just one-upped all of them.
"You have to play a lot of years before you can be considered a Yankee great," said Jeter, whose Yankees teammate Mariano Rivera closed down the NL in the ninth after giving up a run. "I have only played four years. Hopefully I'll keep playing for a few years and you can start that debate, But at this point, I'm still hopefully very young in my career."
Despite the NL-unfriendly outcome, the crowd of 51,323 will remember the game fondly, too. The fans got to see strong performances from each of the four Braves players on the roster, including the inspiring All-Star return of first baseman Andres Galarraga, who missed last season in a battle with cancer.
The game began under threatening skies, but the midseason classic already had weathered one storm, of sorts, losing many of the game's top stars to injury in the weeks leading up to last night's game.
Home run king Mark McGwire, superstar Ken Griffey, future Hall of Famer Cal Ripken and two multiple Cy Young Award winners, Pedro Martinez and Greg Maddux, were among the nine players who were forced off the two All-Star rosters. The dramatic loss of star power drained some of the excitement from the festivities, and thunderheads over Turner Field threatened to dampen the occasion further.
Fortunately, the weather held, and the evening began with a heartfelt pre-game ceremony in which all-time home run leader Hank Aaron threw out the ceremonial first pitch and the All-Stars were introduced on the field along with their families.
Johnson threw out the real first pitch and dispatched former Orioles second baseman Roberto Alomar on a routine grounder to short. Seven pitches later, he was out of the inning and out of the game, scheduled to throw only the one inning because he had just pitched against the Oakland Athletics on Sunday.
AL starter David Wells stayed around a little longer, giving up a pair of singles over two innings in his third scoreless All-Star appearance. He struck out Cubs star Sammy Sosa with a big slow curve ball to get out of the first and got Pirates catcher Jason Kendall with the same pitch to end the second.
It had figured to be a pitched battle. Each team lost a premier starting pitcher, but the unprecedented string of All-Star injuries struck much harder at the two offensive lineups. The National League, for instance, lost three of the four most prolific home run hitters in the sport - McGwire, Griffey and Giants star Barry Bonds - as well as star catcher Mike Piazza.
The American League wasn't hit quite as hard, but lost Rodriguez and 1999 major-league RBI leader Manny Ramirez to compound the effects of a multiyear power shift that has moved several of the game's biggest offensive stars to the National League.
Still, it was the American League that got on the board first, taking advantage of a shaky Kevin Brown to score on a bases-loaded walk in the top of the third. Brown walked three in his only inning of work, Red Sox outfielder Carl Everett accepting the third base on balls to force home Jeter.
Hometown hero Chipper Jones answered right back in the bottom of the inning, launching his first career All-Star homer off Chicago White Sox ace James Baldwin to tie the score. It was the only home run of the game.
Jones became only the 10th player in All-Star history to hit a home run in his home stadium, a feat last accomplished by Indians catcher Sandy Alomar at Jacobs Field in 1997.
"It was awesome," Jones said. "It's every little boy's dream."
Leiter picked up right where Brown left off, walking Jermaine Dye to open the fourth. Travis Fryman followed with a single and NL shortstop Barry Larkin bobbled a ground ball by Mike Sweeney for an error to load the bases.
Not a good idea with Jeter in the wings. He came up one out later and delivered his third hit in four innings, a soft line drive to left-center that brought in two runs and instantly made him the front-runner for the game's MVP award.
"Somebody asked me if I thought he has gotten better," said NL manager Bobby Cox. "I think he has been that good from the start."
The Turner Field crowd would have preferred Jones, of course. He also contributed a single in the fifth inning to set up a run-scoring single by Braves teammate Andruw Jones.
It was a great night all around for the Braves contingent. Galarraga hit the ball well twice (though he had to settle for one hit) and pitcher Tom Glavine pitched a perfect fifth inning.
Galarraga clearly was the crowd favorite, from the introduction of the starting lineup to his first at-bat to another loud ovation when he was removed from the game for a pinch runner in the fourth.
His victory over cancer has been the feel-good story of the year, and his selection to the All-Star team was the fulfillment of one of his preseason goals.
"That's a great moment in my career in baseball - to walk on the field with my kids, and the ovation they gave me, my fans here in Atlanta," Galarraga said. "That's a really special moment. I'm so excited, so happy right now."