KANSAS CITY, Mo. – The St. Louis Cardinals know all about the importance of home field advantage in the World Series. So Tuesday night at Kauffman Stadium, their five All-Star representatives did their part to ensure they’ll have it again this year.
Rafael Furcal tripled and scored, Matt Holliday had an RBI single and Carlos Beltran walked and scored to help the National League defeat the American League, 8-0, in the 83rd Major League Baseball All-Star Game.
And because of it, the Cardinals will have the all-important extra home game in the World Series should they repeat as National League champions.
“It’s very important,” Furcal said. “The All-Star Game is very important because now we know whoever wins the National League will play at least four games in their house. It’s very important.”
Beltran walked and scored as part of a five-run first inning off Tigers starter Justin Verlander. Usually one of the most dominant pitchers in the game, Verlander struggled with his command and allowed four hits, two walks and five runs.
Giants third baseman Pablo Sandoval provided the big blow, a three-run triple which scored Beltran and gave the National League a 4-0 lead. They tacked on another run and led 5-0 before even taking the field for the bottom of the first.
“If you score early you have a better chance to win the game,” Beltran said. “It was surprising because he’s one of the toughest pitchers in the game. Normally when you face him in the regular season you get 90-91 (MPH) early in the game but he came out firing 97-98 and I guess he was missing spots and we were able to capitalize.
“I was looking fastball and he threw me a few good changeups down and away and I saw them good and ended up getting the walk.”
Furcal provided one of the three National League triples in the first four innings, lining a ball down the right field line with two outs in the fourth inning. The switch-hitter joined Hall-of-Famer Enos Slaughter as the second Cardinals player to triple in an All-Star Game.
Holliday followed with a pinch-hit single to score his Cardinals teammate and put the National League up 6-0. It was the only at-bat for Holliday, who gave way to retiring Braves third baseman Chipper Jones the next time up.
“Somebody in the NL is going to be happy,” Holliday said. You wouldn’t have thought Justin Verlander would give up five runs. Baseball’s crazy like that. It was fun to be part of the game and part of the win.”
Beltran flew out to right field in the third inning and finished 1-for-2. Furcal was the last starter to be removed from the game for either team, playing seven full innings and going 1-for-3 with the triple and run scored.
Cardinals third baseman David Freese, who secured a spot on the All-Star team by winning the online final vote campaign last week, entered the game in the fifth inning as a replacement for Joey Votto at first base.
Freese, who played 14 innings at first base last year, had an idea manager Tony La Russa might use him across the diamond since the National League squad had four third basemen and just two first basemen.
“He gave me a little bit of a heads up a couple days ago that it might happen,” said Freese, who had to borrow a first baseman’s mitt from the Cubs’ Bryan LaHair. “We had a lot of third basemen on the roster. It was cool. I had a good time.”
The 2011 World Series MVP struck out against White Sox lefty Chris Sale in his only at-bat. But that wasn’t about to put a damper on an unforgettable experience for the first-time All-Star.
“It was a cool experience,” Freese said. “Getting the victory, having a good time, getting to meet a lot of people. I was trying to soak it in.
“I’m going to remember the guys I got to meet. Today I had a chance to meet George Brett and talk to him. That was cool. I just embraced the whole thing. I’m going to remember this and I know friends and family are going to bring it up. This is a great deal. It’s an honor to be here.”
The only active Cardinals All-Star not to appear in the game was pitcher Lance Lynn, who was told Monday that he probably wouldn’t pitch. Catcher Yadier Molina was named to the National League squad but had to return to Puerto Rico due to a death in the family.
The National League also helped send La Russa out in style. The retired skipper donned a big league uniform for the last time Tuesday, guiding them to the final victory of his career in his final game.
La Russa improved to 4-2 in his six All-Star Games as manager. And by doing so, he helped ensure his former team would have the deciding game at Busch Stadium should they get back to the Fall Classic.
“Having home field advantage in the World Series is a big deal,” Freese said. “Having the first two games at home helps. It doesn’t mean you are going to win but it helps a lot.”
If last year was any example of what’s ahead, the Cardinals will gladly take it.