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July 12th, 2006

 

All-Star wins still the American way

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The Associated Press
American League's Michael Young of the Texas Rangers holds his MVP trophey awarded to him after his game-winning RBI triple gave the American League a 3-2 win over the  National League in the MLB baseball All Star Game at PNC Park in Pittsburgh Tuesday.

By MIKE FITZPATRICK
AP Baseball Writer

PITTSBURGH — Trevor Hoffman took the ball exactly as planned, ready to end a decade of All-Star dominance by the American League.
One sweet swing by Michael Young, and the NL was still searching for that elusive win.
Down to a final strike, Young hit a two-run triple off Hoffman for a 3-2 victory Tuesday night that kept the AL unbeaten since 1996.
“Most unusual,” NL manager Phil Garner of the Houston Astros said. “We actually had the game set up just like we had it all laid out there on paper. We have no regrets there, there is nothing we would have done any differently.”
Except get the final out.
Young took home the MVP award — and the AL won home-field advantage in the World Series for the fourth straight year.
“I’m not going to lie. This is a pretty big highlight in my baseball career,” Young said. “We’re all aware of how important this game is.”
Behind David Wright’s homer and some daring baserunning, the Nationals took a 2-1 lead into the ninth at Pittsburgh’s enchanting ballpark.
But no matter the setting or the season, they can’t find a way to beat the AL.
Garner tried by going to Hoffman, who’s 18 saves shy of Lee Smith’s career record (478) and has converted 24 of 25 chances this season.
After getting two soft comebackers, he gave up a single to Paul Konerko, who was replaced by pinch-runner Jose Lopez.
Then the NL nearly caught a break — it hasn’t had many since its last victory in Philadelphia in 1996.
Troy Glaus’ smash bounded over the left-field fence for a ground-rule double, perhaps preventing Lopez from scoring. He was held at third, until Young made that moot.
The Rangers’ underrated shortstop lined an 0-2 pitch into right-center and slid into third with the biggest All-Star game hit since Texas teammate Hank Blalock’s go-ahead homer off Eric Gagne in the eighth inning in 2003.
“You’re never going to forget these things on this kind of stage,” Hoffman said. “You feel like you let a lot of people down.”
Mariano Rivera worked around Lopez’s error at third base for the save, retiring Milwaukee slugger Carlos Lee on a popup with a runner on second to make the AL 9-0-1 in the Midsummer Classic in the past 10 years.
The NL’s best result was a tie in 2002 in Milwaukee.
In fact, the AL has owned the NL year-round lately, sweeping the last two World Series and winning a whopping 61 percent of interleague games this season.
“I wouldn’t necessarily say domination. We got the breaks tonight,” Derek Jeter said. “It’s one of those things right now. We’re on a roll. The NL was on a roll a few years back.”
Gold Glove center fielder Vernon Wells of Toronto showed off his strong arm on a key play in the third, cutting down speedy Alfonso Soriano with a perfect throw to the plate.
Vladimir Guerrero hit his first All-Star homer in the second, but the rest of the AL’s big boppers were shut down until the unimposing Young cashed in their final chance.
“Nobody wants to make the last out of anything, whether it’s a regular season, World Series or an All-Star game,” Glaus said.
Once the AL was ahead, manager Ozzie Guillen brought in ol’ reliable for the New York Yankees. Rivera’s third All-Star save tied him with Hall of Famer Dennis Eckersley for the career mark since the stat became official in 1969.
“I was honored. We have a lot of great guys and he chose me, the old one,” Rivera said.
Toronto lefty B.J. Ryan earned the win with a hitless eighth.
An exhibition played with a crisp, competitive feel, the game was halted before the fifth inning for a ceremony at home plate in tribute to the late Pirates great Roberto Clemente.
Bud Selig presented the commissioner’s historic achievement award to Clemente’s widow, Vera, who was escorted to the podium by Pirates Hall of Famer Bill Mazeroski.
Guillen, wearing a Clemente T-shirt under his gray Chicago White Sox road jersey, appeared to wipe tears from his eyes, and highlights of Clemente’s stellar career were shown on the video board high above left field.
The Hall of Fame right fielder was killed in a plane crash while delivering relief supplies to earthquake victims in Nicaragua on New Year’s Eve 1972.
“Roberto was a hero in every sense of the term,” Selig said.
With several National Leaguers admittedly tired of losing, they certainly came out to play.
Garner smartly worked his pitcher-batter matchups — as he said he would — and the NL employed a drastic overshift against Boston slugger David Ortiz.
The AL’s 41-year-old starting pitcher, Kenny Rogers of Detroit, made an all-out dive for Chase Utley’s infield single in the second.
NL starter Brad Penny of the Los Angeles Dodgers said Monday his nerves would be “flowing,” and maybe that helped him at the outset. He struck out Ichiro Suzuki, Jeter and Ortiz in succession with a series of 98 mph fastballs.
Mets center fielder Carlos Beltran doubled and singled. He stole third base with two outs in the third and scored on Roy Halladay’s wild pitch, giving the NL its first lead since that eighth inning in 2003.
“I was prepared to close the game out. I prepared like it was a regular-season game, and came out and threw strikes, but sometimes it happens,” Hoffman said.
Notes: Some players and umpires wore yellow wristbands with the initials RCW for Roberto Clemente Walker. Even pitchers were allowed to wear them, on their glove hands. Young’s special wristband is headed to the Hall of Fame. ... The NL lost for the first time in five All-Star games in Pittsburgh.