Despite absences, Anaheim stars still shine

Despite absences, Anaheim stars still shine

ANAHEIM -- It was a party of grand proportions, complete with a dancing monkey on the big screen, but in the end, something clearly was missing from the big All-Star Game bash hosted by Arte Moreno and his Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.

Oh, of course.

Alex Rodriguez.

Where the heck was he?

The Yankees' ripper didn't get a chance to be a hero on Tuesday night, leaving empty-handed along with his American League pals in the Midsummer Classic for the first time since 1996. There was that one sister-kissing tie in 2002, but other than that, the AL had knocked out the National League 12 consecutive times.

There was no way A-Rod would second-guess his manager, Joe Girardi, but in his heart of hearts he had to share what millions of others were left wondering. What would have happened if Girardi had dialed his number in the ninth inning of a 3-1 loss, where he would represent the tying run?

We'll never know.

A-Rod said he was ready to hit, but the call didn't come, and so he would move on and simply wait 'til next year.

As for the game itself ...

"I had a feeling at some point it was going to end, especially as much as you guys ask about it," A-Rod said, referring to the AL's extraordinary run of dominance. "I knew deep down it might come.

"Thirteen in a row is a great streak, and I think the game is tremendous. The interest is great, and talk about great pitching. Everyone played hard, a well-played game, and they deserve it."

A-Rod looked absolutely presidential as he departed Angel Stadium, not at all like a slugger who'd been left holding the bat in the dugout as his team went down to defeat.

A man of his stature, a World Series champion now, he knows there are many more important games to be played -- ones he'll have a large say in deciding.

This SoCal party, with the Angels' ubiquitous Torii Hunter serving as the unofficial master of ceremonies, ran for three full days, even if the main attractions -- the athletes -- didn't arrive until Monday.

"I'm exhausted," Hunter said on his way home late Tuesday night. "I think I'll sleep for two days."

The Futures Game on Sunday was a hit, with promising stars putting on a show in a U.S. rout of the World, and so was the celebrity softball show, which featured Rickey Henderson, Bo Jackson and Jennie Finch all going deep.

Things really got rolling at the State Farm Home Run Derby on Monday, when David Ortiz showed he still can launch fly balls into the stratosphere, outslugging young Hanley Ramirez for a title he dedicated movingly to his deceased friend and countryman, Jose Lima.

Hunter, Ortiz's teammate in Minnesota many moons ago, called the shots, tabbing "Big Papi" as his "pick to click" before the competition began. Hunter was hugging his old friend fiercely when Ortiz prevailed.

There was none of that kind of bonding after the NL had dispatched the AL on the big stage, using a succession of power arms to get the job done along with a timely blow from Atlanta catcher Brian McCann, the game's MVP.

"One pitch was the difference," said Hunter. "McCann got it and hit it down the line. The National League's got a lot of good pitching. They held us down, and they had two Cy Young Award winners -- [Chris] Carpenter and [Tim] Lincecum -- they didn't even use."

Hunter was given a rousing ovation during Tuesday night's pregame introductions, his reception matched in volume and emotion only by the one accorded Texas basher Vladimir Guerrero. Vlad did some damage for six years in front of these folks, and they let him know they appreciated it in no uncertain terms.

Providing comic relief, A-Rod showed his lighter side. As the cheers rained down on Hunter along the third-base line, the Yankees' third baseman -- accustomed to boos here, there, and everywhere but the South Bronx -- danced out a few steps, as if to soak it all in.

Rodriguez knew he would be introduced next, and the greeting would not be nearly as kind.

Those who booed A-Rod would have enjoyed seeing him swing the bat later on, but Girardi had his reasons, and the biggest bat of the generation was left in the rack.

Girardi expressed his predicament afterward, how he could have used A-Rod in any number of situations, but either his hands were tied by circumstances or he was waiting for the perfect moment that never arrived.

In any case, it was only a matter of time, all parties agreed, before the National Leaguers celebrated.

"All good things must end," said Charlie Manuel, the manager of the Phillies and the NL.

Moreno, having watched everything go remarkably well in his lovely ballpark, couldn't have put it any better.

"I just wanted to showcase our metropolitan area," Moreno said. "I tell people all the time that baseball is alive and well in the West.

"We have five teams here in California and two in the metropolitan area, with the Dodgers and ourselves, that combine to draw almost 7 million fans each year. So for us to get an opportunity to showcase where we live and what our fans are doing and what the community is doing, it's been great."

Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.