Ichiro Suzuki was itching to steal, stretching, stretching, stretching his lead in this All-Star Game until the National League catcher, Mike Piazza, looked down the first base line and realized with amazement: "I don't think he thinks we're going to throw over at him."
And in that very instant -- as Piazza noticed the Seattle Mariners' star drifting and the Washington Nationals' first all-star, Livan Hernandez, pawed the mound -- NL Manager Tony LaRussa caught the eye of Piazza and then flicked his fingers toward first base. The sign for a pickoff.
Piazza made his own flicking motion with his fingers.
Which is how the first great Washington Nationals all-star moment came to be.
In a whirl of feet and a flash of spikes, Hernandez whipped his 220 pounds around and fired a ball to Chicago Cubs first baseman Derrek Lee as the stunned Ichiro stumbled and crawled back to the base.
"It wasn't even close," said Piazza of the New York Mets.
Later, Hernandez sat in a folding chair near his locker at Comerica Park. He was asked if he thought this was one of the best pickoff throws he had ever made. He shook his head.
"No," he said.
But it is a moment, the first for a Washington player in the past 34 years. A pickoff to end an inning in an all-star game is almost as unprecedented as a manager calling for such a pickoff. But picking off one of the best base runners in the game, a player who takes great pride in never embarrassing himself, is nothing short of remarkable.
This is probably good because there wasn't much else in Hernandez's first all-star performance that was worth his remembering.
It was supposed to be a dream. He has done many things -- won a World Series, led the league in innings pitched, made himself one of the most trusted starters in baseball, guaranteed to deliver a manager eight innings every time out. But until last year he had never been picked to appear in an all-star game. And until Tuesday night, he had never pitched in one.
He got Texas's Mark Teixeira to pop out, but walked the second batter he faced, Boston's Jason Varitek. The next one, Brian Roberts of the Baltimore Orioles, smashed a ground-rule double down the right field line, leaving runners on second and third.
That's when Ichiro blooped a single into short right field, scoring Varitek and Roberts, turning a 3-0 American League lead into a 5-0 advantage, all but putting the game out of reach. Still Hernandez managed to get Alex Rodriguez of the New York Yankees to fly softly to center. Then, with Boston's David Ortiz at bat, came the pickoff.
Piazza said later that Hernandez was not at his best. He said he has seen it many times before, the big right-hander needing an inning or two to get comfortable. The problem with the all-star game is that you don't usually have more than an inning.
His Nationals teammate, Chad Cordero, didn't get an inning. He got only a batter -- Detroit favorite Ivan "Pudge" Rodriguez, who came up with a runner on second and the crowd going berserk. Cordero fired several fastballs, then snapped an 84-mph slider that left Rodriguez swinging at air.
"That's pretty cool," Cordero said later.
For a second great Nationals all-star moment, it wasn't bad.
"It's exciting to be the first two Washington Nationals [in the all-star game]," Hernandez said before smiling slightly. "And who knows, maybe the last two. Let's see next year."