PHOENIX, AZ – Even with recent inductee into the 3,000 hit club Derek Jeter opting to not attend or play in the game, his absence did not take away from the star power and magic that comes with having the best baseball players in the world gracing one diamond. Adding to the greatness of the game is that the winner claims home-field advantage in the World Series, making it more of a competitive game than a show, a la the NBA All-Star Game. The Americans had won 12 of the last 15 All-Star games, but the Nationals had different ideas on Tuesday night, as they were able to claim a 5-1 victory.
The Phillies’ Roy Halladay started the game for the National League, and recorded six straight outs in his two innings of work before calling it a night. Jered Weaver also had an easy first three outs as he started for the AL, but in a turn of events the Yankees’ David Robertson replaced Boston’s Josh Beckett in the second inning after Beckett felt something wrong in his knee. Jose Bautista made a sliding highlight reel grab on a foul ball to the right field corner off the bat of the first guy Robertson faced, Atlanta’s Brian McCann, garnering an appreciative applause from the the audience in Phoenix.Pitching continued to dominate through the third, with only one hit between the two teams and the Mariners’ Michael Pineda striking out the final two batters of the inning.
Fireworks started in the top of the 4th frame. After Cliff Lee retired the first two batters he faced, Adrian Gonzalez sent a cutter over the right field fence, giving the AL a 1-0 lead and arousing a thunderous ovation. Following the homerun, back-to-back base hits by Jose Bautista and Josh Hamilton ended Lee’s night, as he gave way to Tyler Clippard of the Nationals. The ensuing batter, Adrian Beltre, ripped a base-hit line drive to left field, but any ideas of scoring were erased by Hunter Pence, as he gunned down Bautista at the plate for the final out.
The NL got things rolling in the bottom half with back-to-back singles by Carlos Beltran and Matt Kemp. That set the stage for the tattooed Prince Fielder to stroll to the plate and cream one to left-center, giving his team a 3-1 cushion.
The top of the 5th marked a few changes in the lineup for both teams, and Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw took the mound for the National squad and immediately sat David Ortiz down on strikes. Jordan Walden took the circle for the Americans in the bottom of the frame and gave up a single to Colorado’s Troy Tulowitzki. Cubs shortstop Starlin Castro was inserted as a pinch-runner, quickly stole second, then claimed third on a wild pitch. This was all for not, as Walden threw Castro out at the plate on a dribbler back to the mound. Andre Ethier drove in Rickie Weeks on a base-hit to extend the NL lead to 4-1, but Ethier was caught in a rundown for the final out of the inning.
A comedic moment came during an interview with superstar singer/actor Justin Timberlake, where he said beer is his favorite ball-park food and repeatedly told Joe Buck and Tim McCarver they’re classy guys and call a great game. Just another element of a game of this stature, as the stars aren’t only on the field. A touching scene occured before the start of the 7th, with a tribute to MLB legend Harmon Killebrew and the fight against cancer, reminding us all of the importance of little things in life we should not take for granted, regardless of social status.
The NL poured it on in the bottom of the 7th, as first-time all-star catcher, the Orioles’ Matt Wieters, let a pitch get away from him, and Hunter Pence was able to get all the way to third base after singling. He was driven in on a ground-rule double by Pablo Sandoval, increasing the lead to 5-1 and putting the game out of reach. The most exciting part of the top of the 8th had nothing to do with the American League’s at-bats, but rather Padres reliever Heath Bell sprinting to the mound and then sliding as he reached it.
The AL squad went down fighting in the top of the 9th, as expected. The Pirates’ Joel Hanrahan retired the first batter he faced, followed by an error on a routine grounder by Castro. Matt Joyce singled to right, followed by a wild throw that put runners on second and third with one out. Enter the Giants’ Brian Wilson and his 364 day-old beard, who came in and retired two straight batters to close it out as usual.
Prince Fielder was named the game MVP.
The absence of hurlers CC Sabathia and Jon Lester was apparent for the American team, as the National League performed top-notch on the offensive end while their pitching staff consistently retired batter after batter, rarely even letting up a scary inning.
Regarldess of the outcome, every player that took the field should be proud to call themselves All-Stars, as the Midsummer Classic epitomizes why baseball is America’s pastime and grandest sport. 16 teams in the MLB are within 5 games of a playoff spot, so fans should gear up for what should be a thrilling second-half of an already historical season.