July 14, 2010 in Sports

Long wait ends

N.L. wins Midsummer Classic for first time since 1996
By The Spokesman-Review
 
AP photo

Marlon Byrd slides safely home before A.L. catcher John Buck can apply a tag in the seventh inning Tuesday.
(Full-size photo)

McCann MVP

Atlanta Braves catcher Brian McCann took home the All-Star Game’s MVP honors, thanks to his bases-clearing three-run double that accounted for all of the National League’s runs.

ANAHEIM, Calif. – One key swing by Brian McCann pulled the National League out of the All-Star shadows.

McCann’s three-run double in the seventh inning provided the N.L. all the offense it needed to capture its first Midsummer Classic since 1996 with a 3-1 victory Tuesday night.

“Enough was enough,” St. Louis pitcher Adam Wainwright said.

In a year of dominant pitching, young starters David Price and Ubaldo Jimenez set the tone – and got even more help from the tricky shadows. Nearly the entire field at Angel Stadium was bathed in odd patterns of sunlight for a twilight first pitch, creating more awkward swings and misses than usual in baseball’s annual talent show.

Even that bouncing Rally Monkey on the big screen in a red A.L. jersey couldn’t change things this time. The National League earns home-field advantage in this year’s World Series.

“It’s a big deal. I think home teams play better at home,” said N.L. manager Charlie Manuel, whose Phillies have reached the last two World Series and won in 2008. “It feels good, it feels real good. I talked to our guys before the game and told them how important home-field advantage was.”

The A.L. didn’t go down without some ninth-inning drama, started by David Ortiz’s leadoff single. But Jonathan Broxton sealed it, helped by an alert play from right fielder Marlon Byrd and shaky baserunning by Big Papi.

Ortiz was on first with one out when John Buck hit a blooper that Byrd scooped up and threw to second for a forceout on the slow-moving Boston DH. With Alex Rodriguez standing on the steps in the A.L. dugout, Ian Kinsler flied out and the N.L. had its win. A-Rod never got in the game.

“It felt awesome for us to get the win and break the streak,” Broxton said.

Until MVP McCann cleared the bases, Robinson Cano’s fifth-inning sacrifice fly stood as the lone run in a game expected to be decided by the loaded pitching staffs on each side. McCann’s deep fly ball to the warning track in right gave the N.L. hope in the fifth. When he made good with that bases-loaded double off Matt Thornton, Atlanta’s steady catcher hit second base and pumped his right fist. The three guys who scored headed to the dugout with a renewed swagger.

“You dream of moments like this as a kid. It was amazing,” said McCann, a five-time All-Star relatively unknown before this night.

Cano and his fellow Yankees All-Stars wore black armbands after the death of longtime New York owner George Steinbrenner from a heart attack earlier Tuesday in Tampa, Fla., at age 80. Pictures of The Boss showed on two video screens before a pregame moment of silence, and flags hung at half-staff.

“It’s a difficult time, on a great day for baseball, the All-Star game, something everyone looks to,” Yankees and A.L. manager Joe Girardi said. “A great man in baseball passed. He’s meant so much to not only this organization, but to the game of baseball, and to all of us personally.”

It took the N.L. 14 years to break through after several close calls. The National League lost the last two 4-3, including that 15-inning affair in 2008 at Yankee Stadium. The two before that were also one-run defeats. In 2002, they tied 7-7.

Phillies chairman Bill Giles had razzed Manuel that his job was on the line if the N.L. didn’t finally win again.

Turns out this National League lineup didn’t need star Washington rookie Stephen Strasburg – though the phenom pitcher might have generated a nice buzz around the ballpark in those early innings.

Jimenez, Colorado’s 15-game winner and first-time All-Star, came out of the gate with two scoreless innings. Price – who at 24 was the youngest All-Star starter since 23-year-old Dwight Gooden of the Mets in 1988 – matched that. Then came Marlins ace Josh Johnson, two more.

It took until the fifth inning for hitters to start making regular contact, the shadows all but gone aside from a couple of small patches in the outfield. With a first-pitch temperature of 85 degrees, this was a steamy summer night even by Southern California standards.

Neither offense did much to excite a relatively quiet Orange County crowd of 45,408. There were noticeable empty seats high in the third deck of right field.

Heath Bell’s all-out sprint in from the bullpen to face local Angels favorite Torii Hunter generated some of the only roars all night.

Seattle’s Ichiro Suzuki made a record ninth start as the A.L.’s leadoff hitter, in his 10th All-Star game.

The game was the 11th played in California and third in Anaheim. San Francisco last hosted in 2007. Rod Carew tossed out the ceremonial first pitch.

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