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Bodley: NL finds right fit, spoils AL's night

Bodley: NL finds right fit, spoils AL's night

ANAHEIM -- The clock finally struck midnight for Cinderella. The American League stepped out of its glass slipper Tuesday night, and it no longer owns the All-Star Game.

Not since 1996 has the National League prevailed in the summer extravaganza, but on a day when the baseball world mourned the passing of Yankees owner George Steinbrenner, all was not right for the Junior Circuit.

The AL's amazing streak came to an abrupt halt on a magnificent night at Angel Stadium, as Atlanta's Brian McCann crushed a bases-clearing double, driving in all the runs in the NL's 3-1 victory.

It would have been nice to say the cadre wearing Yankees pinstripes won one for "The Boss," but it wasn't to be. Oh, Robinson Cano did give the AL a 1-0 lead with a sacrifice fly in the fifth inning, but that was it for the New Yorkers.

Yankees pitcher Phil Hughes was charged with two of the NL runs, Derek Jeter had just one single and was rubbed out at second on a double play. Andy Pettitte pitched a perfect third inning when the game was scoreless and the teams were feeling each other out. Alex Rodriguez didn't even play.

Now, for the first time since 2003, when the controversial rule was adopted, the World Series will open this autumn in the NL park thanks to the All-Star victory.

It has been 13 frustrating years for the NL, but it was finally able to turn the oppression of the AL into a triumphant night.

Bill Clinton was President the last time the NL won. That game was in Philadelphia's Veterans Stadium, which is now a parking lot.

The connection between Tuesday night's solid victory to the 6-0 Senior Circuit win in '96 is amazing.

Start with the Phillies. Charlie Manuel, their current manager, and his coaching staff guided this year's NL All-Stars.

In '96 the NL manager was Atlanta's Bobby Cox, so it figures in the season that will be his last his catcher would drive in the winning runs and earn the All-Star Game MVP.

"This is something you dream about as a kid," McCann gushed in the bedlam of the NL clubhouse. "This night has been surreal. I've been humbled being next to the greatest players in the world. I got a pitch up in the zone and was able to put good wood on it."


"We've had to answer questions for awhile now about losing and the streak. It was on all our minds. We desperately wanted to win this game."
-- All-Star Game MVP
Brian McCann

His double came off lefty Matt Thornton of the Chicago White Sox.

The NL being able to exorcise the domination of the AL was more important than any personal achievement.

"We've had to answer questions for awhile now about losing and the streak," McCann said. "It was on all our minds. We desperately wanted to win this game."

Years ago the late Warren Giles, former NL president, would enter the clubhouse before the All-Star Game and deliver his best Knute Rockne pep talk. For the NL in those days, winning was what All-Star Games were about.

Manuel says he doesn't pretend to be a Giles or a Rockne, but he did his best to get the same message across late Tuesday afternoon.

"I talked to our guys right before the game and told them the importance of home-field advantage in the World Series," Manuel said. "I don't know if they heard or not, but I liked the way they pitched and played.

"They got real relaxed and laughed at some of the things I said to them. I told them to have fun and not win because they had to, but to win because they wanted to and have fun."

St. Louis pitcher Adam Wainwright said the players heard Manuel. Loud and clear.

"There was a lot of chatter in the dugout," Wainwright said. "These guys wanted to win this game. The manager and every player in this room wanted to win. The National League is not a league that needs to be walked on over and over again. We came out here and finally won a baseball game. McCann is a very good friend. Like me, he's a good ol' Georgia boy."

Nothing made me believe the NL victory was in the stars more than a dramatic play by Chicago Cubs outfielder Marlon Byrd that probably saved the victory.

Boston's David Ortiz led off the ninth with a sharp single to right field of Dodgers reliever -- NL closer for the night -- Jonathan Broxton. With one down, Toronto's John Buck ripped a bloop that dropped in front of Byrd, who picked it up on a bounce and rifled a throw to second base to force the sliding Ortiz. The Rangers' Ian Kinsler flied out, and the AL's reign was over.

"I knew exactly what I was going to do," said Byrd. "Everything was right there. The bounce was perfect, and I needed a perfect throw to Rafael Furcal to force Ortiz. Basically, it was a blind throw -- I wasn't even looking. I knew I could get him. It has to be a good bounce, come up, fire and the ball has to be on the bag."

"Byrd's play was huge," said Manuel. "He doesn't usually play right field. I think in the future it's important to have a true center fielder on the team."

Manuel knows first-hand how important home-field advantage is in the World Series. He managed the NL All-Stars a year ago, lost the game, and lost the home advantage when the Phillies met the Yankees and lost in the World Series.

He said he had to remind the players during the three days here about that.

"I don't think it really weighs on them like it does on the fans and the media kept talking about it," he said. "I told them that some of them will be in the World Series in October and they'll know how important home field is."

Then, he added: "You know in baseball ... all good things have to come to an end, and tonight evidently was our night."

And it happened before midnight.

Hal Bodley is the senior correspondent for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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