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Johnson Wings It Wildly, Then Plays It Straight

Jerome Holtzman Chicago Tribune

The long-awaited Randy Johnson vs. Larry Walker matchup, as expected, occurred in the second inning of Tuesday night’s All-Star Game but wound up, more or less, a draw.

Walker walked on five pitches without taking a swing, but the at-bat did produce an unexpected humorous twist. Johnson’s first pitch was intentionally wild and sailed over Walker’s head. Then, to complete the gag, Walker turned around in the batter’s box, turned his batting helmet around and assumed the stance of a right-handed hitter.

A natural left-handed batter, Walker previously had said he didn’t want to bat against the hard-throwing Johnson who had the lefty-lefty advantage. Walker was the only runner allowed by Johnson, who worked the first two innings without allowing a ball out of the infield.

Later, Johnson insisted his pitch over Walker’s head was not intentional.

“It was kind of humid out there,” Johnson said, keeping a straight face. “The ball just slipped out of my hand. I guess it was kind of apropos that it slipped while Larry Walker was up. I wish I didn’t walk him. Hopefully, things will be different the next time I face him.”

Walker went along.

“He must have had some sweat on his hand,” said Walker, the Colorado star who benched himself when Johnson pitched against the Rockies in an interleague game.

Walker expressed regret that he had refused to face him in the interleague game.

“I’m glad I got to face him,” said Walker who leads the majors in hitting with a .398 average. “It was a fun at-bat. It all worked out. I got on base and I’m just glad it’s over. He and I have been great friends for years. I’m looking forward to he and his wife coming to Denver so we can take them out to dinner.”

Pitcher David Cone of the Yankees, a perennial All-Star who worked a scoreless fourth inning, insisted that the American League locker room was not the same.

“I keep looking around for Kirby Puckett and he isn’t here,” Cone said before Tuesday night’s midsummer classic. “I really miss him.”

An outfielder with the Minnesota Twins, Puckett was a 10-year All-Star. He was forced to retire as an active player last season when he developed severe eye problems.

“I can’t remember ever meeting a guy as good as Kirby,” Cone said. “I hope I get to see him somewhere soon.”

Cone also had words of praise for first baseman Tino Martinez, his Yankee teammate who is among the major league leaders in home runs with 28, and runs batted in, 78.

“Tino’s our MVP,” Cone said. Then he reconsidered.

“No, he’s not just our MVP, he’s the American League MVP,” he said. “I don’t know where we’d be without him. And as a teammate he ranks right up there with Keith Hernandez and Don Mattingly.”

Cone, however, conceded Martinez doesn’t have nearly as good a chance of breaking the one-season home run record set by Roger Maris in 1961 as either Ken Griffey Jr. of Seattle or Mark McGwire of Oakland. McGwire reached the All-Star break with 31 homers, Griffey with 30.

“Griffey and McGwire have been there before,” Cone said. “They have the experience and that’s a big difference.”

According to Cone, there is a considerable difference in the quality of players active today compared with those of 25 and 30 years ago.

“Each generation is supposed to benefit from the previous generation,” Cone said. “We’ve learned from watching players like George Brett, Hal McRae and Dave Winfield. And the guys just coming up are going to learn from us. It’s all part of the human process.”

Cone sometimes is likened to Greg Maddux, the All-Star pitcher from the Atlanta Braves who made Tuesday night’s start for the National League.

Cone remembered that he and Maddux were minor league opponents. Cone came up through the Kansas City organization at the same time Maddux was with the Cubs’ Iowa farm team.

“Our stats are similar but I’m always reluctant to put myself in his category. He has won four Cy Young Awards. I’ve won one.”

Cone then revealed a little-known fact.

“We’ve pitched about the same number of innings but he’s thrown 2,000 fewer pitches. That tells you I go deeper into the count because my control isn’t as good,” Cone laughed.

“I sweat a lot more.”

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