Brian McCann, Scott Rolen or Heath Bell might really appreciate what happened on this July night come October. Charlie Manuel, too.
An All-Star win the National League thought was long overdue. And with it, home-field advantage in the World Series.
McCann earned MVP honors with a three-run double in the seventh inning, right fielder Marlon Byrd alertly threw out David Ortiz to slow a ninth-inning rally and the NL captured its first Midsummer Classic since 1996 with a 3-1 victory Tuesday night.
“Enough was enough,” St. Louis’ Adam Wainwright said.
In a year of dominant pitching, young starters David Price and Ubaldo Jimenez set the tone — and got even more help from the tricky shadows. Nearly the entire field at Angel Stadium was bathed in odd patterns of sunlight for a twilight first pitch, creating more awkward swings and misses than usual in baseball’s annual talent show.
Even that bouncing Rally Monkey on the big screen in a red AL jersey couldn’t change things this time.
Manuel, the NL skipper, talked to his team about the importance of home-field advantage.
“It’s a big deal. I think home teams play better at home,” said Manuel, whose Phillies have reached the last two World Series and won in 2008. “It feels good, it feels real good.”
The AL didn’t go down without some ninth-inning drama, started by Ortiz’s leadoff single. But Jonathan Broxton sealed it, helped by Byrd’s defense and shaky baserunning by Big Papi.
Ortiz was on first with one out when John Buck hit a blooper that Byrd scooped up and threw to second for a forceout on the slow-moving Boston DH.
“It felt awesome for us to get the win and break the streak,” Broxton said.
Washington closer Matt Capps got the win with just five pitches, striking out Home Run Derby champion Ortiz. Yankees starter Phil Hughes took the loss after allowing two hits before Matt Thornton yielded McCann’s decisive double.
Until McCann cleared the bases, Robinson Cano’s fifth-inning sacrifice fly stood as the lone run in a game expected to be decided by the loaded pitching staffs on each side. McCann’s deep fly ball to the warning track in right gave the NL hope in the fifth. When he made good with that bases-loaded double off Thornton, Atlanta’s steady catcher hit second base and pumped his right fist. The three guys who scored headed to the dugout with a renewed swagger.
“The game counts ... it means more to me this year because we’re in first place,” said McCann, a five-time All-Star relatively unknown before this night.
Cano and his fellow Yankees All-Stars wore black armbands after the death of longtime New York owner George Steinbrenner from a heart attack earlier Tuesday in Tampa, Fla., at age 80. Pictures of The Boss showed on two video screens before a pregame moment of silence, and flags hung at half-staff.
“It’s a difficult time, on a great day for baseball, the All-Star game, something everyone looks to,” Yankees and AL manager Joe Girardi said. “A great man in baseball passed. He’s meant so much to not only this organization, but to the game of baseball, and to all of us personally.”
It took the NL 14 years to break through after several close calls. The National League lost the last two 4-3, including that 15-inning affair in 2008 at Yankee Stadium. The two before that were also one-run defeats. In 2002, they tied 7-7.
Phillies chairman Bill Giles had razzed Manuel that his job was on the line if the NL didn’t finally win again.
Turns out this National League lineup didn’t need star Washington rookie Stephen Strasburg — though the phenom pitcher might have generated a nice buzz around the ballpark in those early innings.
Jimenez, Colorado’s 15-game winner and first-time All-Star, came out of the gate with two scoreless innings. Tampa Bay’s Price — who at 24 was the youngest All-Star starter since 23-year-old Dwight Gooden of the Mets in 1988 — matched that. Then came Marlins ace Josh Johnson with two more.
It took until the fifth inning for hitters to start making regular contact, the shadows all but gone aside from a couple of small patches in the outfield. With a first-pitch temperature of 85 degrees, this was a steamy summer night even by Southern California standards.
Neither offense did much to excite a relatively quiet Orange County crowd of 45,408. There were noticeable empty seats high in the third deck of right field.
Bell’s all-out sprint in from the bullpen to face local Angels favorite Torii Hunter generated some of the only roars all night. Bell pitches for the NL West-leading San Diego Padres.
“McCann came up with that three-run double, and that can break your back with the pitching they have over there,” Hunter said. “It bummed me out, but I was having so much fun out there, playing in my own ballpark. That’s what this game is really all about — having fun.”
The NL squandered its best early opportunity with runners on the corners and one out in the fifth. Justin Verlander struck out Corey Hart and got McCann on the long fly to right.
Dodgers reliever Hong-Chih Kuo put the AL in good position — men on second and third with no outs — when he stopped Joe Mauer’s comebacker and sailed a routine throw to first high over the head of Adrian Gonzalez.
Evan Longoria scored the go-ahead run, which was unearned.
The NL leads the overall All-Star game series 41-38-2.
NOTES: Seattle’s Ichiro Suzuki made a record ninth start as the AL’s leadoff hitter, in his 10th All-Star game. ... The game was the 11th played in California and third in Anaheim. San Francisco last hosted in 2007. ... St. Louis’ Yadier Molina became the first NL catcher to start in back-to-back All-Star games since New York’s Mike Piazza in 2004-05. McCann replaced Molina in the fifth.