NL tops AL in MLB All-Star Game
Pitching, speed and a little bit of power. The National League is back on top in the All-Star game, using the same formula that worked during its dominating run in the 1970s and '80s.
Prince Fielder hit a three-run homer and Roy Halladay and his relief combined on a six-hitter to lead the NL over the AL 5-1 Tuesday night, giving the senior circuit its first two-game winning streak since the mid-1990s.
The NL claimed home-field advantage in the World Series, its only blemish being a home run by Adrian Gonzalez off Cliff Lee.
''It was great to have the pitching set up the way it was,'' NL manager Bruce Bochy said. ''It's hard to beat great pitching and a three-run homer.''
With several big names as no-shows at Chase Field, the AL lost more than the game.
Boston right-hander Josh Beckett warmed up, then bowed out with a sore knee. Detroit slugger Miguel Cabrera left after hurting a muscle in his side while swinging.
''We are not going to use not having Josh as an excuse,'' AL manager Ron Washington said. ''I think when you look at the ballgame, the bottom line is the National League pitching was outstanding. You know, we ended up giving up one big inning and they didn't give up any.''
Even before they were hurt, many stars were missing. Justin Verlander, Felix Hernandez and many other aces started Sunday and were ineligible, Chipper Jones and Alex Rodriguez were among those on the disabled list and Derek Jeter wanted a break. In all, 16 of 84 All-Stars were dropped.
Tyler Clippard got the win despite allowing a single to his only batter, Adrian Beltre. Clayton Kershaw, Jair Jurrjens, Craig Kimbrel, Jonny Venters, Heath Bell, Joel Hanrahan and Brian Wilson combined to keep the NL ahead.
Fielder won the MVP award after becoming the first Brewers player to homer in an All-Star game. The World Series edge could help him later, with Milwaukee and St. Louis tied for the Central lead at the break.
''That was part of the message, how important it was for us, and how important the game was: Do it again for the National League champion,'' Bochy said.
Fielder, son of former All-Star Cecil Fielder, was booed during the Home Run Derby a day earlier by fans angry he didn't select Arizona's Justin Upton.
''I didn't take it personal at all,'' Fielder said. ''I understood it. no hard feelings.''
The NL dashed around the bases and stole three bags, all in one inning. Bell showed some speed, too - the reliever provided the image of the night, sprinting in from the bullpen in the eighth inning and tearing up the turf with a slide just short of the mound.
''I think he nailed it,'' Brian Wilson said. ''I don't know if I'd make it. I think I'd slip, ankle, flip, next thing you know I can't pitch.''
In all, the Nationals have enjoyed their best run since taking three in a row from 1994-96 - they had lost 12 straight games played to a decision before a 3-1 victory at Anaheim last year.
Andre Ethier and Pablo Sandoval also drove in runs for the NL.
Before a crowd of 47,994 that included Muhammad Ali, this was no desert classic - except for fans of pitching, which has become resurgent as the Steroids Era has receded. Scoring in the first half of this season dropped to its lowest level in 19 years and the major league batting average shrunk to its smallest midseason figure since 1985.
The home runs were the first in the All-Star game since J.D. Drew connected at Yankee Stadium three years ago. The AL finished with six hits for the second straight year.
Given the temperature outside, the theme song for this game could have been the Buster Poindexter song ''Hot Hot Hot.'' And except for Lee, that's what the NL pitching was.
Bochy of the Giants became a winner in his second All-Star try, following a defeat in 1999, and his closer Wilson, the 10th NL pitcher, got two outs for the save.
Texas' C.J. Wilson, the fourth AL pitcher, took the loss for the team run by his manager, Washington.
Despite the weather outside - 99 degrees at gametime - two separate groups opposed to Arizona's controversial immigration law protested outside of Chase Field before the game. One quietly passed out white ribbons that symbolized peace and unity and the other loudly chanting in bullhorns and marching in circles with signs that read ''Boycott hate'' and ''Stand with us.''
However, there was little sign of the ribbons in the stands.
While it was hot outside in the Sonoran Desert, it was a comfy 72 thanks to an 8,000-ton cooling system in the ballpark, where the roof has remained closed for games since June 17. It was the first game here in the national spotlight since the famous Game 7 comeback by the Diamondbacks over the Yankees in the 2001 World Series, a factoid referenced at the start of the pregame introductions.
In a modern stadium with an old-fashioned keyhole dirt path between the mound and the plate, there were flickers of sunlight shining through glass panels in the roof when Halladay started Curtis Granderson off with a 91 mph pitch.
Once again, pitchers dominated early.
''I figured a lot of those guys were going to be swinging early,'' Halladay said.
Showing the strength that has given Philadelphia the best record in the majors, Halladay retired six straight batters - the first to do that in an All-Star game since Roger Clemens in 2001.
Lee, his Phillies teammate, followed and set down his first five hitters. Halladay, who started for the AL in 2009, joined Vida Blue, Clemens and Randy Johnson as the only pitchers to open for both leagues.
''It was nice to have Cliff come in right behind me,'' Halladay said. ''I know Cole (Hamels) wanted to be there too.''
Gonzalez, who switched leagues in the offseason by going from San Diego to Boston, stepped up in the fourth and lined an 86 mph cutter just to the right-field side of the swimming pool, where women in bikinis and a man in a Santa Claus outfit were watching. There's some history here - Gonzalez is 7 for 13 with four extra-base hits against Lee in games that count.
Jose Bautista singled on a popup behind first that Fielder dropped and advanced on Josh Hamilton's broken-bat single before Beltre singled sharply to left. Hunter Pence, who entered at the start of the inning, threw a strike to catcher Brian McCann well in time for the tag. With baseball still smarting from the season-ending injury to Buster Posey when Scott Cousins crashed into him in May, Bautista slid late to avoid a collision that would have brought up memories of Pete Rose's takeout of Ray Fosse in the 1970 All-Star game.
Carlos Beltran singled to shortstop leading off the bottom of the fourth and Matt Kemp singled before Fielder gave the NL a 3-1 lead against Wilson, hitting an 88 mph cutter the opposite way to left-center. The drive gave every major league team except the Diamondbacks at least one All-Star home run.
Rookie reliever Jordan Walden made a nifty, barehanded pickup of Rickie Weeks' two-hopper to the third-base side of the mound in the fifth and threw out Starlin Castro trying to score from third. Castro came in as a pinch runner and swiped second and third. Weeks then stole second and came around on a pinch-single by Ethier.
Sandoval doubled in a run off Brandon League in the seventh.
Notes: There was a moment of silence before the game for the victims of the Tucson shootings in January, among them Christina-Taylor Green, the 9-year-old daughter of Dodgers scout John Green and granddaughter of former major league manager and GM Dallas Green. Her parents and brother brought the lineup cards to home plate. Families of the victims sat near the third-base dugout. Daniel Hernandez, an intern who helped save the life of U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords during the shootings, threw out a ceremonial first pitch along with Joe Garagiola. ... Cabrera giggled when Joe Buck initially bypassed him during pregame introductions and announced Felix Hernandez. ... Beckett warmed up to start the second but felt soreness in his left knee and didn't pitch. ''If it was a regular game, I could have pitched through it,'' he said. ... Bautista made a sliding catch in foul territory in the right-field corner on McCann before hitting the wall feet first. ... The NL has outscored the AL 344-341. ... This was the first time the DH was used for an All-Star game in an NL ballpark. ... Even though the NL won for just the fifth time in 24 years, it holds a 42-38-2 advantage.