Wednesday, July 14, 2004

Soriano an MVP, too

By Ronald Blum
The Associated Press

HOUSTON - Last winter, he was the other guy in the deal that sent Alex Rodriguez to the New York Yankees. On Tuesday night, Alfonso Soriano was the star of the All-Star game, hitting a three-run homer off Roger Clemens in the first inning and earning the MVP award in the American League's 9-4 win.

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"I feel a little sorry because he's been nice to me all the time," said Soriano, Clemens' former teammate on the Yankees.

Because of the trade, A-Rod and Soriano will be forever linked, their performances compared, a modern day Ted Williams and Joe DiMaggio.

Soriano, a three-time All-Star at age 28, hit .289 with 17 homers and 55 RBIs in the first half, helping the surprising Rangers take a two-game lead in the AL West after three years of last-place finishes with A-Rod.

Rodriguez, an eight-time All-Star and the 2003 AL MVP, hit .270 for the AL East-leading Yankees with a team-high 22 homers, 58 RBIs and 18 steals - fine numbers, but below the even higher expectations he created for himself. He was 1-for-3 with an RBI triple Tuesday night.

"I think he's doing his job with the Yankees and I'm doing my job in Texas," Soriano said. "I'm happy for him, but happy for me, too."

Soriano's 343-foot shot off Clemens, his second All-Star homer following a drive off Dodgers closer Eric Gagne two years ago, sailed over the "This One Counts" banner hanging over the out-of-town scoreboard on the short porch in left field and gave the AL a 6-0 lead.

He followed that up with a third-inning single and a fifth-inning strikeout, going 2-for-3. He also made a nice pickup on Sammy Sosa's third-inning grounder to second.

"I've seen him do it for several years," said former Yankees teammate Derek Jeter, who knows a star when he sees one.

Surrounded by his friends, Soriano felt as if he was back in the Bronx.

"I feel tonight, honest, like I'm coming back to play for the Yankees," he said, "Having Joe Torre (as) manager, Jeter at short, (Jason) Giambi at first."

Socks stretched up high and always ready with a big grin, Soriano was a hit with the Yankees. His homer in Game 7 of the 2001 World Series put Clemens in position to win before Arizona rallied in the ninth. But for all of Soriano's neat feats in New York, fans dwelled on his postseason last October, when he hit .206 with one homer, nine RBIs and a record 26 strikeouts in 68 at-bats.

When the opportunity arose in February to acquire Rodriguez, New York pounced and sent Soriano to the Rangers.

"I think it was a great trade for Sori because I think the people in New York lost sight of how inexperienced he is," Torre said. "So I think it was an opportunity for him to get out, and he seems to have a smile on his face all the time."

Fans around the nation responded to Soriano's performance this season by giving him the most votes in balloting for the starting lineup, 3.47 million. And he rewarded them, becoming the first top vote-getter to earn the MVP award since fan balloting resumed in 1970.

After receiving the trophy from commissioner Bud Selig, Soriano went straight to the interview room and beamed as his mother looked on from a front-row seat.

"Everything is for her," he said.

The Hall of Fame grabbed his jersey, putting a part of him in Cooperstown. And then attention turned to October.

With the Yankees and Rangers both atop their divisions, Texas could have the chance to knock the Yankees out of the postseason in another matchup that will put Soriano and Rodriguez in the spotlight.

"We have to make the playoffs first," Soriano said.

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