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Home pride rides with NL Bonds & Co. seek to reverse 0-9-1 skid dating back to 1996

SAN FRANCISCO -- In the midst of Barrypalooza, there is some baseball to be played tonight in AT&T Park. And the National League has something to prove in the 78th All-Star Game. The American League is unbeaten since 1996 with nine wins and the infamous 2002 tie in Milwaukee.

Home-field advantage in the World Series goes to the winner. So does pride.

Honorary National League President Bill Giles said his league is 0-6 since he took his post but was 19-4 when his late father, Warren, officially ran the league.

"Do you think we could work a little seance with your dad?" joked NL manager Tony La Russa of St. Louis. "I remember the first All-Star Game I was coaching was in 1984 in San Francisco, and the National League was beating up the American League, and I really felt the difference was they were competing and the American League was exhibiting.

"It kind of swung around where the American League was winning, and now they are still winning. It seems to me they are competing, and I like our league, too. Our league is very good, and there's no reason that we haven't won our share."

The NL holds a 40-35-2 edge in the series, but the AL's current run is the second longest in All-Star history. It's topped only by the NL's 11-game winning streak from 1972 to '82.

The NL was oh-so-close to snapping the hex last year in Pittsburgh, coming within one strike of a 2-1 victory before Texas' Michael Young stunned San Diego closer Trevor Hoffman for a two-run triple in the top of the ninth that produced a 3-2 AL win.

"I'd definitely like another chance," Hoffman said. "It was disappointing last year, but it was just one of those things. And for our team, having home field could really mean something, so we want to win."

"[Home field] is something we're definitely interested in," added Boston pitcher Josh Beckett, whose team owns a 10-game lead in the American League East. "I don't know if it should be part of the All-Star Game, but it is, so we want to win it."

Most of the attention, of course, is going to go to San Francisco outfielder Barry Bonds, who figures to be showered with adulation during pregame introductions. La Russa checked with Bonds over the weekend in St. Louis about his health and told him he was going to take the unusual step of batting him second in the NL lineup.

"We'd like to get the pitchers' attention right away," La Russa said.

A late Internet push, largely in San Francisco, got Bonds into the NL starting lineup.

"I'm so happy for Barry," said American League manager Jim Leyland of Detroit, who was Bonds' skipper in Pittsburgh from 1986 to '92. "What's so wonderful to me is it appears to me that a lot of parts of the country evidently voted for him. I don't think San Francisco could swing that much to get him in the starting lineup. It's a great tribute to his career."

La Russa chose San Diego's Jake Peavy as his starting pitcher over Dodgers ace Brad Penny, who opened last year's game. Leyland chose Oakland's Dan Haren over his own ace, Justin Verlander, and Cleveland lefty C.C. Sabathia.

Peavy is 9-3 with a 2.19 ERA for the NL West-leading Padres while Haren is 10-3, 2.30 for the Athletics. He began his career with La Russa's Cardinals before being traded to Oakland. Both are 26-year-old right-handers. Haren leads the AL in ERA while Peavy is second in the NL.

"I'd be lying if I didn't say it was a nice extra touch since [Haren] pitches right across the bay in Oakland," Leyland said. "If the game was in Cleveland it would probably be Sabathia. If it was in Detroit, probably Verlander."

The Cardinals traded Haren to Oakland for Mark Mulder in 2004, and he's been a 14-game winner in back-to-back seasons. With Barry Zito gone to the Giants, Haren has become the A's ace.

"I'll be in awe [tonight], that's for sure," Haren said.

Peavy was just 11-14 last year but has rebounded nicely this year and trails only teammate Chris Young among NL ERA leaders.

This is the third All-Star Game in San Francisco, but the first two were in Candlestick Park. The National League won both of those games, with the '61 game famous for Stu Miller's ninth-inning balk when he was blown off the mound by a fierce gust of wind.

e-mail: mharrington@buffnews.com

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AT&T Park, San Francisco; 8 p.m., Ch. 29, 550 AM

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