The AL Still Reigns
pblackwell, Wed, July 15th, 2009
Of all the statistics put up in the wake of the American League's latest All-Star conquest in St. Louis, one stuck out, and it was only slightly related to baseball.
The last National League victory came in 1996, in Philadelphia, at a stadium (the Vet) now demolished, on a surface (Astroturf) never used anymore in baseball, and before Barack Obama was even a state senator in Illinois.
Oh, sure, the folks in St. Louis thought this time would be different. Albert Pujols playing in front of the home folks. Deep pitching. A roster full of power. Even Obama showing up in a White Sox jacket (take that, Cubs fans!) to throw the first pitch - low and inside.
So Pujols went out and promptly committed a first-inning error, helping the AL score twice, and didn't get a hit in three times at the plate. He did make a couple of nifty defensive plays to atone, but the burden of being the host with the most had to wear on him.
Then again, Prince Fielder went through the long Home Run Derby on Monday night and still deposited a tie-breaking double in the bottom of the second after Yadier Molina's single and error brought home two runs. The NL led 3-2.
It was too good to last. Joe Mauer's double brought the AL even in the fifth inning, and pitchers from Halladay to Buehrle to Greinke to Jackson to Hernandez to Papelbon to Nathan retired 18 straight batters, more than enough time to render a familiar ending.
Some young outfielders did the big damage - first Carl Crawford, with his home run-saving catch on Brad Hawpe in the bottom of the seventh. Then Curtis Granderson, with his hustling triple in the eighth, and finally Adam Jones with his long fly ball that scored Granderson.
Really, the game ended in the eighth. For when Nathan got out of a two-on, two-out jam by getting St. Louis native Ryan Howard to strike out, you just knew the NL wasn't going to get anything in the ninth off Mariano Rivera. That cutter is still sick.
What's so freaky and remarkable about this AL streak (12-0-1 now) is how close so many of the games have been - Sandy Alomar ('97) and Hank Blalock ('03) hitting late home runs, Michael Young's clutch two-run triple in the ninth inning in 2006, the 15-inning marathon at Yankee Stadium a year ago, and now this. Four times, Rivera has closed it out. That always helps.
Many have blasted the fact that World Series home-field advantage is decided by the All-Star Game. But it's worked - no more ties, to be sure, and what's more, no one in the NL would care about the 13-year drought if home field wasn't on the line.
They sure care now. The hard part is that the AL also cares about keeping this autonomy, similar to the NL in the 1960s and '70s. They'll have to wait until Anaheim next July to see if anything changes...