HOUSTON — The 57th All-Star game began Tuesday night with a confrontation between Roger Clemens, the Boston Red Sox's Lord of the Ks, and Dwight Gooden, the New York Mets' Doctor K.
It ultimately produced a new King of the Ks in the Dodgers' Fernando Valenzuela.
And it came down to an exciting finish largely because Boston catcher Rich Gedman couldn't handle the Ks produced by yet another K, that celebrated knuckleballer of the Texas Rangers, Charlie Hough.
Restricted to one hit through seven innings, the National League scored twice off Hough in the eighth, taking advantage of four outs, three of them Ks or strikeouts. There was a strikeout wild pitch and a strikeout passed ball, and suddenly a 3-0 American League lead seemed to be turning into another in a series of midsummer frustrations.
This time, however, the New York Yankees' Dave Righetti and the Baltimore Orioles' Don Aase provided the relief that preserved a 3-2 victory, allowing Hough to laugh later and say of that strange eighth inning: "Pretty dull game until then, huh?"
It was a game dominated by pitching, which ultimately came as no surprise to Whitey Herzog, the National League manager. Herzog is used to such games in a season in which his St. Louis Cardinals are last in the league in hitting, having scored three runs or fewer in 55 games.
"I thought this would be different," Herzog said later, "but it felt just like I was managing the Cards. I went out to make some lineup changes at one point and (umpire Bruce) Froemming said, 'Well, you seem to have put the hex on this club, too.' "
Herzog is becoming accustomed to that, as well.
The National League leads the All-Star series, 36-20-1. It has lost only twice in the last 15 years. Both times, Herzog was the manager.
It lost this one when Gooden, in the type of mistake that has haunted his recent work, hung a two-strike, two-out curve to Lou Whitaker in the second inning. The Detroit second baseman had arrived at last year's All-Star game without his uniform. This time, he undressed Gooden, hammering a two-run homer to right.
That was the difference until Mike Scott of the hometown Astros made a similar mistake in the seventh, getting a two-strike fastball up and over the plate to Whitaker's successor at second, Kansas City's Frank White, who quickly became the 14th pinch-hitter in All-Star history to deliver a home run, connecting to left-center.
The 1986 pattern has seen Herzog's teams seldom win when the opposition scores three runs or more.
'I thought we faced some outstanding pitching tonight," he said.
"I mean, our hitters came back moaning about Clemens."
The Boston right-hander set the tone, pitching three perfect innings with only two days of rest.
In the latest addition to what he has described as a storybook season, Clemens required only 25 pitches, 21 of them strikes. An Astrodome crowd of 45,774 included about 50 of Clemens' relatives and friends from his nearby hometown of Katy.
They saw him become 1) only the seventh All-Star pitcher to open a game by retiring the first nine batters, and 2) the first American League pitcher to win the Most Valuable Player Award.
Clemens called it the latest thrill in a season of thrills.
"The whole thing has been like visiting a fantasy camp," he said, alluding to a 15-2 record, those 20 April strikeouts against Seattle, his team's seven-game lead in the American League East and now this, his MVP performance in a stadium where, as a youth growing up, he used to marvel at the sight and sound of idol Nolan Ryan's fastballs.
Clemens had the speed gun registering in the high 90s as he dominated a National League lineup that Herzog had said would be capable of winning 125 to 130 games over a 162-game schedule.
"I felt sluggish all day yesterday," Clemens said, "but coming back here tonight got the adrenaline flowing again. With all the home folks here, I was really jumping. The best part was when I walked in the dugout and saw all of those great players.
"I mean, I thought maybe the Red Sox had made a major trade."
On a night when both teams collected only five hits, Milwaukee's Ted Higuera followed Clemens and stretched the string of batters retired in order to a record 13 before Darryl Strawberry singled to right with one out in the fifth. An ensuing walk to Mike Schmidt generated something of a threat, but Higuera put his screwball back to work and set down five more in order before Hough came on to pitch a perfect seventh, the prelude to a bizarre eighth.
In the meantime, Gooden left after the third, having yielded only the Whitaker homer that came in the wake of a two-out double by Dave Winfield.
"That's been my problem all year," Dr. K said of the hanging curve. "One mistake seems to cost me. I've got to use my head more. I've got to think out the pitch before I throw it."