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A stellar end to Cal’s All-Star career

Ripken and Gwynn honored in fitting All-Star finales

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SEATTLE — For one final night, Cal Ripken was baseball's biggest star.

Ripken ended his All-Star game career in triumphant fashion, overshadowing baseball's best players with a home run in his first at-bat to win the MVP award Tuesday night.

"I've had some special moments in baseball that I'll always cherish and always hold onto, this being one of them," Ripken said.

For five innings on the field, Ripken was the center of attention, getting a final inning at shortstop and hitting yet another dramatic home run that helped the American League win 4-1.

Midway through the game, Ripken and fellow retiring great Tony Gwynn — surrounded by All-Stars — were honored with the Commissioner's Historic Achievement Award.

The AL warmed up for the sixth inning with video highlights of Ripken and Gwynn playing on the Safeco Field scoreboard. Troy Glaus ran onto the field to replace Ripken, who was showered with cheers.

Gwynn walked onto the field for the ceremony, and All-Stars poured out of both dugouts in a sign of appreciation toward two of the greatest players of this generation.

Before the game restarted, a groundskeeper removed third base, which had Ripken's No. 8 on the side.

Leading off the bottom of the third, Ripken got a lengthy ovation and stepped out of the batter's box to tip his helmet to the crowd.

He then hit the first pitch from Chan Ho Park over the left-field fence for his second career All-Star homer. Ripken, who will turn 41 in August, became the oldest player to homer in an All-Star game.

"It happened on his night. He's the MVP," Gwynn said. "It's a storybook story. It was unbelievable."

Ripken, who also homered to win the MVP in the 1991 All-Star game, received hearty congratulations from his fellow All-Stars and gave a curtain call to the appreciative Safeco Field crowd.

"It was a shot of adrenaline," Ripken said. "Then the curtain call after that. It was just a continuation of those goose bumps. I still have them right now thinking about it."

Ripken also homered the nights he tied and broke Lou Gehrig's consecutive games record in 1995.

"Wow. It's like a dream come true," Cubs slugger Sammy Sosa said. "It doesn't get better than that as a human being. That's a great feeling, especially because he announced his retirement and came and put a shot like that. That's amazing. He is the man."

Ripken's bat, jersey and cap are headed to the Hall of Fame. His wife, Kelly, is keeping the ball.

Earlier, Ripken was given a goodbye gift from Alex Rodriguez — an opportunity to start the game at shortstop, the position he helped revolutionize.

Just before the first pitch, Rodriguez, the starting shortstop, told Ripken to switch positions and move over from third base.

"It was a really neat tribute," Ripken said. "I spent most of my career out at shortstop. It was great being at shortstop again. I appreciated it."

Ripken refused at first, but with AL manager Joe Torre waving him over from the dugout, he moved to the position he played in his first 12 All-Star games. A-Rod cleared the idea with Torre last week.

"I said I thought it was a dynamite idea," Torre said.

Ripken and Gwynn announced their retirement days apart in June. Ripken was then voted on to the AL All-Star team and Gwynn was added to the NL squad as an honorary player.

It's only fitting that Ripken and Gwynn leave baseball's center stage together. They both came up in the early '80s, were perennial All-Stars and turned down countless millions of dollars to remain with their teams.

They are members of the 3,000-hit club and should enter the Hall of Fame together in 2007. Gwynn has 3,126 hits, two more than Ripken.

"The outpouring of love Cal and I received was unbelievable," Gwynn said. "I can understand it for Cal. I have a hard time understanding it for me."

The goodbyes to Gwynn and Ripken have turned some of the game's biggest stars into little kids scrounging for souvenirs. Rodriguez was hoping to swipe a shoe or bat from Ripken, Bret Boone was hoping for a signed lineup card, Jimmy Rollins was searching for autographs.

Ripken is one of only seven players to have at least 3,000 hits and 400 homers, won two MVP awards and been selected to an AL-record 19 All-Star teams.

Gwynn's career has been nearly as good. He has a lifetime .338 average, the highest of any player who began his career after World War II. Gwynn has hit above .300 in 18 straight seasons, breaking Honus Wagner's NL record, and his eight NL batting titles are tied with Wagner for the most in the NL.