ST. LOUIS — The American League extended to 13 years its era of All-Star Game dominance over the National League Tuesday night — and gained World Series home-field advantage for the eighth straight year — by winning baseball’s 80th All-Star Game, 4-3. A crowd of 46,760 saw the AL win its seventh straight Midsummer Classic and close the overall NL lead in the series to 40-38-2. Carl Crawford of the Tampa Bay Rays was named the game’s Most Valuable Player, largely for his role in making the game the first homerless All-Star affair since 1999.
A couple of hours before the first pitch, I asked veteran broadcaster Bob Costas who the biggest star would be tonight: Stan Musial, Albert Pujols, or Barack Obama. “Musial and Pujols are probably tied for first,” Costas answered with a smile. “President Obama is one-A. People may have a sense that this is the last time they’ll see [the 88-year-old] Musial at an All-Star Game here in St. Louis.” On a day of scripted moments, the gathering of all six living Cardinal Hall of Famers — Musial, Red Schoendienst, Bob Gibson, Lou Brock, Ozzie Smith, and Bruce Sutter — behind home plate before the first pitch stood out.
Based on one man’s applause meter, Costas was right about El Hombre and The Man tying for tops in popularity. But Obama, alas, was a distant third, and well below the Q rating of each former president Bush (the 41st and 43rd presidents received thunderous receptions during their pregame video presentations, honoring “All-Stars Among Us.”). Busch Stadium was either partisan Republican this night, or Cardinal fans REALLY don’t like the Chicago White Sox (President Obama’s jacket of choice as he threw out the ceremonial first pitch).
As the unofficial face of All-Star week, Pujols entered the game with bipartisan support, only to commit an error in the top of the first inning that led to a run as the AL jumped out on top, 2-0. Another Cardinal, though, came through in the second inning, when catcher Yadier Molina drilled a two-out single to score two NL runs (one of them when a throw from AL centerfielder Josh Hamilton deflected off a sliding Shane Victorino at third base). Molina then scored on a ground-rule double by pinch-hitter Prince Fielder to give the Senior Circuit a 3-2 lead.
Pujols made a pair of diving stops in the top of the fifth inning to minimize damage, but the AL tied the score at 3 on a two-out double by Joe Mauer that scored Derek Jeter from first base. After Fielder’s second-inning double, seven AL pitchers combined to retire 18 consecutive NL hitters. Crawford made the defensive play of the game when he robbed Colorado’s Brad Hawpe of a home run to lead off the bottom of the seventh inning.
A pair of All-Star rookies gave the AL the lead again in the eighth inning. Detroit’s Curtis Granderson drilled a one-out triple off the leftfield wall, then scored on a sacrifice fly to rightfield by Baltimore’s Adam Jones.
The NL put runners at second and third in the eighth inning, but St. Louis native Ryan Howard of the Philadelphia Phillies struck out to end his team’s last threat.
Crawford couldn’t recall a precedent for the game-saving grab he made. “He hit it pretty good,” he said, “but I didn’t think it was going to carry that far. I was able to jump up and make a play on it. It felt great. I don’t think I’ve ever robbed a home run before. I picked a good time to do it tonight.”
As Tampa Bay’s manager, no one has seen the MVP play more than AL skipper Joe Maddon. “I don’t know that I’ve ever seen Carl go over the wall,” he said after the game. “The way he got position on the ball was great. Carl’s become a better baseball player since I met him in 2006. It’s all because of his work ethic. He wanted to become a better player, and to his credit, he has.”
As for the growing AL streak, Maddon was to the point when asked about his role in extending it. “I really didn’t know it had been that long,” he said after the victory. “Obviously, I’d rather be part of the streak, rather than the other way around. It’s so important to get home-field advantage in the World Series. We got it last year, and didn’t take advantage of it. But the first and seventh game are important.”
Regarding his first experience as an All-Star manager, Maddon summed it up nicely: “This is good for the baseball soul.”