AL bats ground Rocket

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, July 14, 2004

HOUSTON - Roger Clemens hardly had time to worry about Mike Piazza. He was too busy getting banged up by American League hitters.

Clemens' big All-Star homecoming was a bust from the very start, with MVP Alfonso Soriano and Manny Ramirez homering during a record six-run burst in the first inning that sent the AL cruising past the Nationals 9-4 Tuesday night.

''I put our guys in a hole,'' Clemens said.

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Ichiro Suzuki led off the game with a double, Ivan Rodriguez followed with a triple and the rout was on. The Americans reduced the 41-year-old Rocket to a batting practice pitcher and a pained look, becoming the first team in All-Star history to hit for the cycle in an inning.

After Muhammad Ali playfully jabbed at Derek Jeter during first-ball festivities, the slugging really started at the 75th All-Star game.

David Ortiz homered and Jeter got three more hits as the Americans romped to their seventh straight win, not including the infamous tie in 2002. They closed their overall deficit to 40-33-2 - most importantly, it gave the AL home-field advantage in the World Series for the third year in a row.

Soriano's second All-Star homer was a three-run shot off Clemens, his former teammate.

''I feel a little sorry because he's been nice to me all the time,'' the Texas second baseman said.

Clemens was gone by the time the game ended. AL manager Joe Torre of the New York Yankees said it was a little tough watching his former ace get tagged.

''He certainly wanted to shine for everybody,'' Torre said. ''I don't think the fact that he gave up six runs diminishes anything.''

A lot of the pregame buildup centered on the checkered past between Piazza and the Houston ace. Clemens beaned the New York Mets catcher in the 2000 regular season at Yankee Stadium, then threw the jagged barrel of a broken bat toward him in the World Series.