The 57th all-star game had been over almost an hour, and Boston's Roger Clemens, dressed in elephant-skin cowboy boots and a white knit shirt, was being walked through interview after interview, from ESPN to ABC, from UPI to KTRH.
At each stop, he repeated pretty much the same words: "This has been a storybook season, and this is one more page of what I hope will be a very nice book for me and the Boston Red Sox."
On the other side of the Astrodome, Dwight Gooden had packed his bags and departed, telling reporters one bad pitch had smoked him again.
As Clemens pitched three perfect innings in the American League's 3-2 victory, Gooden was tagged for Lou Whitaker's two-run homer. Yet their three-inning matchup Tuesday may have tantalized baseball fans for a second Clemens-Gooden matchup, the one that could be coming in October.
And as baseball begins its second half, another Clemens-Gooden meeting in the World Series may be the game's safest bet, because in 1986 they appear to be the dominant performers on baseball's dominant teams.
Gooden's New York Mets stormed into the all-star break with a 59-25 record and the largest lead at the break in the 18 years of divisional play -- 13 games. The front four members of their starting rotation have gone 41-10, and their offense leads the National League in batting average and home runs.
"They're the class team in baseball," National League Manager Whitey Herzog said. "There ain't no race in the National League East."
That may be true for the American League East, too. There are many things not to like about the 56-31 Red Sox. Their 100-year-old outfield has hit only 24 homers. Oil Can Boyd (11-6, 3.71) is acting more and more erratic and has been suspended indefinitely. Their defense is so-so.
About the only thing the Red Sox do is win. Their starting pitchers have won 39 games, their bullpen is solid and designated hitter Don Baylor has provided steady leadership, along with 15 homers and 56 RBI.
Besides that, who can catch them?
The New York Yankees may be (again) a favorite to win next season since they have gone with kid pitchers Scott Nielsen (2-0, 1.69), Bob Tewksbury (6-4, 3.59) and Doug Drabek (1-2, 5.18). Still, baseball sources say George Steinbrenner is trying to trade for one or two veteran pitchers (Milwaukee's Danny Darwin, St. Louis' Bob Forsch?) and won't sit on a good thing this winter, either.
The Baltimore Orioles might have a chance, but no one will know if they don't get healthy for more than a week or two at a time. When reliever Tippy Martinez is placed on the disabled list in a few days, he'll become the Orioles' 11th disabled list move, a team record, and they have had at least one player on the disabled list every day this season.
"Every day I get a call about something new," said General Manager Hank Peters, who was himself struck by a foul ball during Tuesday's game.
Injuries aside, the Orioles also have had some big disappointments, the biggest being outfielder Mike Young, who hit 28 homers and drove in 81 runs last season, but is hitting .235 with five homers and 30 RBI in 1986.
The Orioles' baseball staff will meet Thursday and possibly again Friday to consider bringing up one or two of the Rochester kids, probably Ken Gerhart or Jim Traber to replace slumping players such as John Shelby (.212) and Young, although indications are that the team they chose in spring training is the team they'll live or die with.
Right now, the fourth-place Orioles are a game behind the Cleveland Indians, who have been baseball's surprise team.
No fluke, either. The Indians are solid offensively with the products of the Rick Sutcliffe trade, Joe Carter and Mel Hall, totaling 31 homers and 110 RBI. Further, 1984 No. 1 draft pick Cory Snyder has hit eight homers in his first 108 at-bats.
The biggest surprise has been the pitching. Knuckleballer Tom Candiotti, who was 10-13 in the minors last season, came from Milwaukee in a minor league trade and has gone 8-6 with eight complete games.
"I'll just say we were smarter than everyone else," Cleveland personnel man Joe Klein said. "That's not true, but I'll say it anyway. Actually, he has been a big surprise to us, too."
He's only part of the story. Ken Schrom, who came in a trade with Minnesota, was 31-31 for his career when the season began. This year, he's 10-2. Nonetheless, the Red Sox have 75 games remaining, and need to go only 44-31 to win 100 games, which would probably make them bullet proof.
The other two divisions, the National League West and American League West, are much harder to predict.
In the American League West, the California Angels, despite only a 1 1/2-game lead, are solid favorites. They began the season with five injured pitchers, but have survived that and might have a staff to rival that of the Red Sox.
Further, a defense led by shortstop Dick Schofield and center fielder Gary Pettis may be the best in the game. The Angels have a couple of other factors working in their favor. One is that nine veterans are unsigned for next year, and many of them, including Reggie Jackson, probably won't be offered contracts for 1987. If this California team is ever going to do it, this is the year.
In the NL West, the Los Angeles Dodgers have been hit so hard by injuries that they have played games in which second baseman Steve Sax was their only healthy regular. Bill Madlock is due back this week, and Pedro Guerrero in early August, so don't count the Dodgers out yet.
It would be hard not to root for the San Francisco Giants, who lost a club-record 100 games last season. They entered the break in first place, with a restructured pitching staff and an offense that has made good on 12 suicide-squeezes and is on a pace to steal a club-record 91 bases.
Manager Roger Craig has performed a miracle with his pitching staff and, if Mike Krukow and Mike LaCoss can match their 20-8 first half, the Giants may be in business.
Next to the Dodgers, the Astros have the best starting pitching in the division, but they have started to slide as left-hander Bob Knepper has slumped. Still, they are only a game out of first place.