Pujols, NL Look to End All-Star Drought

BY foxsports • July 13, 2010

By JANIE McCAULEY
AP Baseball Writer

July 13, 2010

ANAHEIM, Calif.-- Ryan Howard is sick of all the talk about the American League's dominance in the All-Star game.

The
Phillies slugger knows all too well it's been 13 years of AL bragging
rights. And, no, that wacky 7-7 tie in 2002 did little to boost NL
morale in baseball's Midsummer Classic.

In this year of the
pitcher, the National League is downright loaded, even for an All-Star
game with the best of the best coming to Orange County on Tuesday night.

"This
should be the year for us to go out there and hopefully end this
drought," Howard said. "I'm getting tired of hearing about the American
League winning and how long they've won, every year for the last 13
years or whatnot. Basically go out there and try to change it up."

There's
Colorado 15-game winner Ubaldo Jimenez starting at Angel Stadium. In
the bullpen: Marlins ace Josh Johnson, Mr. perfect Roy Halladay and
two-time reigning NL Cy Young Award winner Tim Lincecum. And so on.

The
AL run is one of the more perplexing streaks in sports. Is it simply a
quirk, or evidence of true dominance? The American League has ruled
interleague play for several years, and also done well in the World
Series, winning four of the last six titles.

You'd think the NL
might have caught a break at some point in a span of more than a
decade, just getting one ball to bounce its way.

In 2008 at
Yankee Stadium, the National League had 15 innings to make it happen
and came up short. The previous year in San Francisco, a crazy ball off
the wall gave Ichiro Suzuki the first inside-the-park home run in
All-Star game history.

With a star-studded lineup of New York
Yankees gathered in sunny, surf-crazed Southern California, even the
Angels' infamous rally monkey will probably be rooting for the AL if
things are close late in the game.

The last time the NL won was
1996, when the Milwaukee Brewers were still in the AL. Not that many
remember the 6-0 NL victory at Philly's old Veterans Stadium.

"This
will be Charlie's second straight year to try to beat that stupid
American League jinx," Phillies chairman Bill Giles said of the
Philadelphia and NL skipper, Charlie Manuel. "Charlie, your job's on
the line, man."

It was Giles' father, Warren, the former
National League president, who used to enter the NL clubhouse and give
fired-up speeches to help rally and ready his players for the All-Star
game.

These days, there are graphic monkeys bouncing all over
the big screen, Thunderstix and Vuvuzelas -- oops, not those
noisemakers, they aren't allowed at Angel Stadium.

CC Sabathia isn't sure any of that stuff really matters much.

"I
can't say it's better players," said the burly Yankees ace, who won't
pitch Tuesday. "It's just one of those things. What is it, 13 years in
a row? It's pretty much luck I guess."

A new rule keeps Sabathia
and other pitchers who started on Sunday from being on the active
roster. Tampa Bay lefty David Price will start Tuesday for the AL.

The NL players believe it's their turn to finally turn the page on this decade-old drought.

And
why not think that way? This game is being played within miles of
Disneyland -- "Happiest Place on Earth" -- where thousands of kids
(adults, too) get to dream big every day. Six-foot-tall,
baseball-themed Mickey Mouse statues, some painted in stars and wearing
caps or holding baseballs, are scattered around town.

"We know everyone's here to have a good time but at the same time our priority is to win the game," Jimenez said.

To
do so, Jimenez and Co. must hold down an AL lineup featuring Josh
Hamilton in the cleanup hole and Vladimir Guerrero batting fifth --
with sluggers Alex Rodriguez and David Ortiz as backups for manager Joe
Girardi.

Boston's Big Papi won the Home Run Derby on Monday night, hitting 11 homers in the final round to beat Florida's Hanley Ramirez.

Beating the AL will be a daunting task indeed. Big swings often decide the game.

Still,
with the likes of Albert Pujols and Howard on the NL side, it would
look pretty even."We came back against the National League bullpen in
2003," said All-Star coach Bud Black of the NL West-leading San Diego
Padres. "I can't explain (the streak). I wish I knew. There's mutual
respect league to league. I don't think the AL senses any superiority
at all. Even going back to my playing days in both leagues there was
never that sense."

Aside from having fun with peers during a
short break from the demands of the 162-game schedule, everybody
involved wants to shine at the All-Star game. Just do a little
something.

Angels center fielder Torii Hunter has plans to make the highlight reels.

"I'm
going to take a home run away from somebody and duplicate what I did in
2002 taking a home run away from Barry Bonds," Hunter said with a grin.

He insists he will crash into the wall to do it if need be.

Home-field advantage for the World Series is on the line.

"Now with what's at stake," said NL coach Bruce Bochy of the San Francisco Giants, "the National League needs to stop this."


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