July 11th, 2006


NL out to reverse All-Star trend


The Associated Press
St. Louis Cardinals’ Albert Pujols, watches as his son, A.J., high fives with Houston Astros coach Jose Cruz in the outfield before the AllStar Game home run derby in Pittsburgh Monday. Pujols leads theNational League’s best against the American League tonight.

AP Baseball Writer

PITTSBURGH — Albert Pujols can’t explain it.
He knows there are plenty of talented players in the National League, so why do they keep getting kicked around by their AL counterparts?
The American League is 8-0-1 in the last nine All-Star games. AL teams also swept the past two World Series and won an overwhelming 61 percent of interleague games thisseason.
“It’s crazy. You look at those numbers and you can’t believe it,” the St. Louis slugger said Monday. “That’s why you play this game for so long and never figure out why thingshappen.
“Hopefully, we can turn this thing around.”
Pujols will get another chance tonight when he starts at first base and bats third for the NL in the 77th All-Star game at picturesque PNC Park.
But it won’t be easy.
The AL boasts big sticks David Ortiz, Vladimir Guerrero and Jim Thome, plus ace pitchers Johan Santana, Roy Halladay and Mariano Rivera.
Indeed, there’s nothing junior about the Junior Circuit.
“It’s a far superior league right now,” Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez said. “In the American League, this is an All-Star team among All-Star teams.”
Bold words from a big-nameplayer.
Stationed just to his left (as usual) on media day was shortstop Derek Jeter. Wearing a smart-looking suit, the New York captain was a little more, well, diplomatic about the AL-NL gulf.
“Alex said that? I didn’t say that,” offered a smiling Jeter, who often chooses his words carefully. “I think it’s just one of those streaks, one of those stretches that you can’t explain.”
Maybe the American League truly has more talent. Maybe this sort of thing is simply cyclical and the lopsided numbers are a fluke. Whatever the case, it’s an undeniable run of dominance that many National Leaguers want to stop.
“I’d have to say the American League is probably taking it a little more seriously,” NL manager Phil Garner of the Houston Astros said. “We are tired of getting beat. To me, the task this year is, let’s get that sense of pride back for the National League.”
And home-field advantage in the World Series, too.
But one of Garner’s own players, slugger Lance Berkman, still sounded pretty cavalier.
“We certainly want to win the game, but I don’t think many guys are going to lose sleep over it if we don’t,” he said.
Of course, it wasn’t always that way.
The National League used to own the AL, winning 11 straight All-Star games and 19 of 20 until Fred Lynn’s grand slam off Atlee Hammaker at old Comiskey Park in Chicago helped snap the string in 1983.
The explanation back then was this: With more black and Latin stars such as Willie Mays and Roberto Clemente, the NL played a superior brand of ball — fast, energetic and determined.
Overall, the NL holds a 40-34-2 edge. So what’s the reason for the American League’s astounding success lately?
“We’ve inherited a lot of their great players,” Rodriguez said. “I think revenue sharing has helped American League teams. It’s just the way it has worked out.
“There’s probably 30 or 40 guys in the American League that could be in the All-Star game that are not,” said Rodriguez, making his 10th trip. “This is the hardest All-Star team that I’ve ever had to make.”
Trying to reverse the NL’s fortunes, right-hander Brad Penny (10-2, 2.91 ERA) of the Los Angeles Dodgers will start against 41-year-old Detroit lefty Kenny Rogers (11-3, 3.85), scorned at last year’s summer showcase after shoving a cameraman earlier in the season.
“It’s something that I’ve always wanted to experience,” Penny said. “I’m sure my nerves will be flowing.”
Elected by fans to start at shortstop, Jose Reyes won’t play for the NL because of a cut on his left pinkie that required stitches. Atlanta’s Edgar Renteria will take his place in the lineup, and St. Louis’ David Eckstein was added to the roster.
Three of Reyes’ New York Mets teammates, third baseman David Wright, center fielder Carlos Beltran and catcher Paul Lo Duca, will be in the lineup.
“It’d be nice to win it so we could talk about something else rather than losing all the time,” Padres closer Trevor Hoffman said.
The NL already has one feather in its cap after Philadelphia’s Ryan Howard won the Home Run Derby by beating Wright 5-4 in the finals Monday night.
The World Series champion Chicago White Sox have six players on the AL squad — plus outspoken manager Ozzie Guillen — but no starters. Jose Contreras, who pitched six innings Sunday, was pulled in favor of Minnesota rookie Francisco Liriano.
Guillen chose Toronto’s Vernon Wells to start in center, replacing Boston left fielder Manny Ramirez (sore knee). Guerrero will be in left and Ichiro Suzuki in right.
“Even when I play Nintendo against my kids, I want to beat ‘em,” said Guillen, who already told some AL All-Stars they might not see the field. “It’s my job to win this game — and I will do anything.”
With 23 first-time All-Stars, some of baseball’s biggest names will be missing, including Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Ken Griffey Jr. and Randy Johnson.
But others are back, such as new Dodgers first baseman Nomar Garciaparra.
“It’s great to see the young guys out here,” Garciaparra said. “I think it just shows the way baseball evolves.”
AP Baseball Writer Ben Walker contributed to this report.


Red Dragon gridders get pre-season respect

The SUNY Cortland football team is ranked 11th by Street & Smith’s College Football 2006 Yearbook and 24th by USA Today Sports Weekly in the publications’ annual Division III pre-season rankings.
Cortland finished last season with a 7-3 record, including a 5-1 record in the New Jersey Athletic Conference that matched Rowan University for the league’s best mark. The Red Dragons, with only four seniors on the roster, qualified for the NCAA Division III tournament for the first time since 1997.
Also in Street & Smith’s, Cortland senior defensive tackle Adam Haas has been chosen as a pre-season All-American and the Red Dragons’ Nov. 4 game at Rowan has been listed as a “Game to Watch” nationally.
Haas was a and Don Hansen’s Football Gazette first team All-American and the NJAC Defensive Player of the Year last fall. He led the Red Dragons with 14.5 tackles for lost yardage, including 10.5 sacks.
Cortland opens the season at SUNY Morrisville on Sept. 9 in the first meeting between the schools since 1930 (a 12-0 Cortland win) and what’s believed to be only the second game ever between the schools. The Red Dragons’ first home contest will be versus SUNY Brockport on Sept. 16.
Cortland has five home contests, including the annual Cortaca Jug classic against Ithaca College which will kickoff at noon on Nov. 11.