Twilight shadows, sun hold down All-Star scoring
David Price fought a case of nerves all day while he prepared to start his first All-Star game against an NL lineup loaded with the likes of Albert Pujols, Ryan Howard and David Wright.
Most of the Tampa Bay left-hander's butterflies flew away Tuesday night when he saw slivers of sunlight and shadow creeping across the Angel Stadium field.
What perfect twilight conditions for pitchers - and what an appropriate setting for a July showcase in a season that's been dominated by the men on the mound.
''I saw the shadows, and I said to myself, 'I'll just go out there and throw strikes,''' said Price, who pitched two scoreless innings as the youngest All-Star starter since Dwight Gooden 22 years ago. ''That 5:45 start, that definitely benefits the pitchers. It makes it awfully tough to hit, and everybody knows that. With the velocity we're already throwing at, adding the shadows makes it much tougher.''
Until the sun finally went down on Orange County, the 81st All-Star game was just another boring chapter of the twilight saga. The teams combined for 13 hits - just three for extra bases, all doubles - in the NL's 3-1 victory.
Although pitching skill clearly made the difference, baseball's best hitters also had trouble seeing pitches in the gloaming, leading to strikeouts by everybody from free-swinging Vladimir Guerrero to extraordinary contact hitter Ichiro Suzuki.
Some of the game's biggest hitters put up its biggest zeros: Pujols, Howard, Suzuki, Guerrero and Hanley Ramirez all failed to connect. The only RBIs came from Robinson Cano, whose fifth-inning sacrifice fly produced an unearned run, and Atlanta catcher Brian McCann, whose three-run double in the seventh decided it.
The AL mustered just six total hits, its lowest total since 1999. Alex Rodriguez never even got into his 13th All-Star game, standing on the dugout steps while John Buck and Ian Kinsler took the AL's final cuts.
''It was definitely a pitchers' game,'' Howard said. ''It's an All-Star game. Everybody here is good. You're facing an ace from just about every team.''
Don't blame the Los Angeles Angels' ballpark for the pitching-friendly conditions. There's a reason the Angels hardly ever play near the All-Star game's 5:45 p.m. local start time - at least not until the playoffs in October, when the sun is in an entirely different place.
The ball popped through the sunlight and shadow in flashes during the first few innings. It's no wonder McCann had the only really memorable hit in nine innings, although the stalwart Braves catcher didn't blame the sun.
''It's the pitching,'' said McCann, the game's MVP. ''You see the quality of arms that both teams are throwing out there. It's the year of the pitcher. I can speak for my division: You have to face Roy Halladay and Josh Johnson. Every single night you're going out, you're facing quality arms. Everybody knew it was going to be a low-scoring game.''
Pujols noticed trouble in the shadows right away, pointing to his eyes and mouthing, ''Woooo!'' after lining out to end the first inning. Yankees captain Derek Jeter let a nasty pitch from Colorado's Ubaldo Jimenez buzz him a bit too tight, perhaps struggling to see it.
Guerrero, the former Angels slugger now starring in Texas, flailed vainly at a low pitch while striking out to start the second inning - although Vlad's career-long propensity for swinging at balls in the dirt made it hard to blame the shadows.
In the third, Florida's Johnson even managed to strike out Suzuki, who had fanned just twice in his first 27 career All-Star plate appearances.
The fielders also had a little trouble: Cano fought through the sun to knock down Wright's grounder in the second inning but couldn't make a play at first, while Texas outfielder Josh Hamilton held up his glove to shade his eyes before he caught McCann's fly to the warning track in the fifth.
Neither team hit a homer in the All-Star game for just the 16th time. David Ortiz, who won the Home Run Derby on Monday night, struck out to end the sixth on a 91-mph inside fastball from Washington's Matt Capps, who got the win by throwing just five pitches.
''We try to play our best,'' Ortiz said. ''But when you see guys who are used to pitching six, seven innings and are here to pitch one inning, you're going to see the best of those guys.''