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July 16, 2008

On the Beat

The All-Star Game

by John Perrotto

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NEW YORK-J.D. Drew stood at his locker in full uniform after most of his American League teammates had already showered and dressed, holding the Ted Williams Most Valuable Player Award for the 79th All-Star Game. The Red Sox right fielder played a large part in the AL's 4-3 win over the National League on Tuesday night at Yankee Stadium. He hit a two-run home run off of the Reds' Edinson Volquez in the seventh inning to tie the game at 2-2, and it had actually become Wednesday morning by the time Drew drew a walk as part of the winning rally in the 15th that was capped by Rangers second baseman Michael Young's sacrifice fly.

Drew wasn't completely satisfied to walk away as the MVP in his first All-Star Game appearance, however, and had actually hoped that the game could have stretched a little longer into the wee hours of the morning instead of ending at 1:37 a.m., when Twins first baseman Justin Morneau slid home safely ahead of the throw from Brewers right fielder Corey Hart on Young's fly ball. That's because with the AL down to its last pitcher (Rays left-hander Scott Kazmir), Drew would have had the chance to take the mound had it come to the point where manager Terry Francona of the Red Sox was forced to use a position player.

"I used to have a really good knuckleball," insisted Drew, who hasn't pitched since his senior year of high school in Hahira, Georgia. "I've kind of lost it in recent years. It just comes and goes now, but when we'd been warming up and playing catch before games I used to have a really good knuckler. I'm going to have to talk to (Red Sox knuckleballer Tim) Wakefield and see if he can help me with it. I have a pretty good little cutter, too, at least when I'm playing catch. I think it could be an effective pitch for me. I think I could have gotten some guys out with it."

Whether Drew could have handled the NL lineup last night will never be known, as the AL finally won it in the 15th when Young drove in the winning run for the second time in three years. Young's two-run triple in the top of the ninth inning off Padres closer Trevor Hoffman had given the AL a 3-2 win in the 2006 game at PNC Park in Pittsburgh. While that hit (which pushed the AL from down by a run to ahead by one and earned him MVP honors) off of baseball's all-time saves leader was even more dramatic, he said it did not compare to this game-winning RBI. "It's the whole magnitude of the situation," Young said. "It's the last year at Yankee Stadium, all the history in this stadium, and all the history on display before the game. I can't imagine ever having a more memorable All-Star moment than this one."

The pre-game ceremonies were indeed memorable, as 49 living Hall of Famers had taken the field with the two All-Star squads, but it's safe to assume that most of the legends had retreated to their hotel rooms by the time Young drove in the winning run against Phillies closer Brad Lidge. With the scored tied at 3-3, Morneau led off the 15th with a single. One out later, Rays catcher Dioner Navarro singled and Morneau pulled up at second. A walk to Drew then loaded the bases, setting the stage for Young to give the AL its 11th win in the last 12 All-Star contests. Young's fly ball went to medium right field, and Morneau took off for home plate as Hart made the catch, Hart's throw tailing to the right of home plate as Morneau barely beat the sweep tag of Braves catcher Brian McCann to score the winning run.

Lidge had spent time warming up during each inning since the ninth as NL manager Clint Hurdle of the Rockies had designated him as the closer. While Lidge admitted he was a little bit spent after throwing so much on a muggy evening, he would not use that as an excuse. "I only really started heating up when we'd get a guy in scoring position and it looked like we'd take the lead," Lidge said. "I maybe wasn't as fresh as if I had only had to warm up once, but I still had enough left in the tank."

The AL forced extra innings by tying the game at 3-3 in the eighth when Rays rookie Evan Longoria drilled a two-out RBI double into the left-field corner off of Mets closer Billy Wagner. Both teams would spend the rest of the night squandering plenty of chances to win the game, with the NL putting runners on base in six of the last seven innings, including men in scoring position twice, and repeatedly coming up empty. In the 10th, Marlins second baseman Dan Uggla-who had a dreadful night, making three fielding errors in addition to the missed run-producing opportunities-grounded into an inning-ending double play with runners on the corners against Yankees closer Mariano Rivera. Two of Uggla's errors and a base on balls enabled the AL to load them up with none out in the bottom of the 10th, but the Rockies' Aaron Cook escaped the jam by getting Indians center fielder Grady Sizemore and Longoria to hit into back-to-back force plays at home, then inducing Morneau to ground out to shortstop. In the 11th, Pirates center fielder Nate McLouth threw out Navarro at the plate as he tried to score from second on a single by Young. Cook struck out Rangers second baseman Ian Kinsler with runners on first and second to end the 12th, and the Cubs' Carlos Marmol whiffed Young and White Sox left fielder Carlos Quentin with runners on first and second to quell yet another AL scoring threat in the 13th.

Hurdle used all 11 of his pitchers, and was a bit short-handed with Giants right-hander Tim Lincecum made unavailable when a severe case of the flu forced him to seek treatment at a local hospital. "I'm proud of the way the pitchers we gave the ball to showed up," Hurdle said. "I'm not happy to lose by one run but I'm happy with the way my team played. It was a tough game to manage. I thought I was going to have a night off, but I wound up doing Chinese arithmetic to try to figure out how to cover all the innings with our pitchers. I felt like I was back in algebra class. It got wild."

Francona was forced to use all 12 of his pitchers, including Kazmir, who got the win after having just thrown 104 pitches against the Indians in his start this past Sunday. "Everyone said I was pitching on one days' rest, but I didn't come into the game until 1:17 so it was actually two days' rest for me," Kazmir said with a smile. "I felt strong. I know they didn't want to use me for more than one inning but I could have gone longer if it was necessary."

Francona jokingly said Kazmir was going to be limited by "hours rather than pitches," but then turned serious when he talked about how gut-wrenching the late innings of the game were. "You wait a whole lot of your life to do something like this, but those last two hours weren't a whole lot of fun," Francona said. "I told (Detroit manager and AL coach) Jim Leyland at one point that I'd quit chewing tobacco and cursing if we just scored one run to win the game. I lied. But the energy was unbelievable. Everybody was on the top step of the dugout. I hope that doesn't get overlooked by the fans, how some of the top players in the world were there rooting each other on."

If anything, Tuesday night's drama showed that the players do care about the All-Star Game, whether or not the convoluted idea of giving home-field advantage to the winning league in the World Series is part of the deal. "Baseball has the best All-Star Game and always will," Young said. "In hockey, guys aren't going to go out and beat up on each other, for obvious reasons. In football, the season is already over and so is the intensity. In basketball, it's an alley-oop fest. But baseball is different. The sport is just made to have a great All-Star Game like this. This was so much fun. If you love baseball, there is no way you couldn't have enjoyed this game. It had a little bit of everything. It was just a great, great game."

NOTES: It was the second walk-off win for the AL. The other came in 1941 when they scored four runs in the ninth, a rally capped by Ted Williams' three-run home run off of Claude Passeau. It was also the first walk-off All-Star Game since the NL won 8-7 in 10 innings in 1994. The AL is unbeaten in the last 12 games, counting the tie in 2002, which is the longest streak in All-Star Game history. Each of the last three All-Star Games have been decided by one run, and 25 in all have been one-run games. The five combined errors were the most in an All-Star Game since the two teams made five in 1983. The four NL errors were the most by one team since the NL also committed four in 1962. The 12 pitchers used by the AL is an All-Star Game record.

John Perrotto is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see John's other articles. You can contact John by clicking here

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