NL Pitches In to Halt All-Star Misery
"Charlie Manuel told us: 'Let's go out and kick their ass,' " said San Diego Padres pitcher Heath Bell. "That's what he told us before the game. And that's what we did. I don't care that the score was 3-1. All that matters is that we won. Finally."
The National League halted its record winless streak in the All-Star game at 13 games Tuesday, using the same formula in the 3-1 victory at Angel Stadium that carried it to its previous All-Star victory, at Philadelphia's Veterans Stadium in 1996.
Dominant pitching put the older league over the top.
Nine pitchers combined to hold the AL to only one unearned run. The AL had only six hits, its lowest total since 1999.
"We have some really, really great young arms on this team and in this league," said Cardinals right-hander Adam Wainwright.
"They all have electric stuff," said Yankees hitting coach Kevin Long. "We have capable hitters, but every guy they had out there was 90-plus (mph) and with great movement, and they attacked the zone, too. They really threw some great arms at us."
Appearing in their first All-Star Game, NL aces Ubaldo Jimenez (Rockies) and Josh Johnson (Marlins) each threw two scoreless innings to begin a pitching parade that also included four closers and a former closer. Giants ace Tim Lincecum was ready, willing and able, but the NL Cy Young Award winner of the last two years was not needed because Manuel had so many other potent arms. Among them was his Phillies ace Roy Halladay, the former AL Cy Young winner who collected two outs in his debut as an NL All-Star.
"You guys are saying it's the Year of the Pitcher, and these guys showed what they have," Lincecum told reporters. "They went out and they painted. It was fun to watch."
The night's biggest hit belonged to the game's Most Valuable Player, Brian McCann of the Braves. He pulled a three-run double for a 3-1 lead with two outs in the seventh inning, sparking a roar inside the AL ballpark from NL partisans, many wearing Dodgers hats.
McCann's scorched shot off White Sox lefty Matt Thorton's fastball will be the game's No. 1 video clip years from now, but a close second should be the Reds' Scott Rolen barreling into third base.
Rolen couldn't have hustled more if the World Series was at stake, which, in a way, it was.
Darting from first on Matt Holliday's sharp single in the seventh, the 35-year-old Rolen dared Angels center fielder Torii Hunter to nab him at third. Hunter had a decent chance, but threw wide.
Now the NL had runners on first and third with only one out, and the fuse's spark would eventually lead to McCann.
The Reds, who appear likely to post their first winning season in 10 years, say Rolen has brought vital toughness to their team. Sounding on that theme and more, Rolen enjoyed talking about the victory.
"I'm a believer in, you come here and you play and you compete at the highest level," he said.
Rolen didn't consider it an exhibition game, even if it was.
"This one counted," he said. "If you're going to walk out on that field in front of however many thousand people and in an All-Star uniform with your peers and go through the motions, then maybe you're not an All-Star. I look at it that way."
Three runs often isn't enough in the All-Star Game, but the AL offense never got out of first gear. Hitters on both teams were challenged early by late-afternoon shadows that "made it really tough to see," said Rangers slugger Josh Hamilton.
What's more, said Hunter, the NL pitchers smartly used their fastball as a tease.
"They threw a lot of offspeed pitches," he said.
The AL mounted two late scoring threats. The first ended in the seventh when Wainwright struck out Hunter with two men on base to preserve the 3-1 lead. The crowd was in full throat for Hunter, who has been the Angels' best hitter in the season's first half. Little did anyone know then that Hunter was in a world of trouble.
"I didn't want to face him," Hunter said of the 6-foot-7 right-hander. "I see him on TV all the time, and he's frickin' nasty. He didn't throw me any fastballs, and I was too amped up. The fans got me too excited. I never faced him before, and he was good."
Stirring the crowd, the AL got a leadoff single from David Ortiz in the ninth against Dodgers closer Jonathan Broxton.
After Adrian Beltre struck out, John Buck landed an apparent single in right field. But the Cubs' Marlon Byrd grabbed it on one hop and threw out the lumbering Ortiz at second base.
The final closer to pitch for the NL, Broxton then retired Ian Kinsler on a flyout.
The streak was over. Good luck making sense of it.
"It's a long streak," Rolen said. "That's an aberration. I don't understand it. I don't have a reason for it. I don't think anybody has a real good reason for it."
Yankees ace CC Sabathia had credited Yankees closer Mariano Rivera for the AL's success in recent All-Star games. Good point, but while Rivera was invincible in the mid-season event, going 4-for-4 on save attempts to go with four other scoreless outings, the NL often leaked oil late in several games.
"I blew one of them," Bell said.
But on Tuesday, the NL got 2 2/3 scoreless innings from four closers -- winner Matt Capps (Nationals, 1/3 inning), Bell (1/3 inning), Brian Wilson (Giants, one inning) and Broxton.
"I think when they say big-league hitters can hit a fastball, that doesn't include Brian Wilson and Jonathan Broxton," Wainwright said. The Cardinals starter knows the joys of closing, having cashed all four save attempts in St. Louis' postseason run to the 2006 World Series title. "I could've been ready in five or six pitches," he said. "I was rockin' and rollin'."
Also impressed was Rays ace David Price, who thew two scoreless innings as the AL starter: "That Brian Wilson is fun to watch. He throws it up there, says here, hit it if you can. He's my kind of pitcher."
Broxton's previous outing against AL hitters had been a train wreck, the Yankees scoring four runs off him in the ninth inning last month at Dodger Stadium.
"For Charlie and his staff to have enough confidence to pick me to close out this game is pretty awesome," Broxton said.
Before the game Manuel worked to both loosen up and fire up the entire team. When he implored the NL players to boot rear ends, he told them he was invoking the same words that Mariners right fielder Ichiro Suzuki spoke to AL All-Stars many years ago when Manuel was an AL hitting coach, and does to this day.
"Charlie talked about how Ichiro used to say, 'Kick their ass,' " Bell said. "So he told us to kick their ass."
At stake was home-field advantage in the World Series.Manuel was sick of seeing the AL claim it. A year ago, his Phillies had to open the World Series at Yankee Stadium as a result of the AL's victory in the Midsummer Classic. They also opened in Florida against the Rays in 2008.
Bell predicted in March that the Padres will reach the World Series this year, and he didn't back off that call late Tuesday.
"I guess we'll have Games 1 and 2 in San Diego," he said, smiling.