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AL made most of Interleague Play

AL made most of Interleague Play

The All-Star Game is next week, which gives National League players precious little time to shed an inferiority complex that possibly developed during the 10th season of Interleague Play.

After playing their American League counterparts on almost even terms from May 19-21, winning 20 of the 42 games, the Senior Circuit, for the most part, took it on its collective chin the past two weeks.

With the Boston Red Sox (16-2), Minnesota Twins (16-2), Detroit Tigers (15-3), Chicago White Sox (14-4) and Seattle Mariners (14-4) leading the way, the Junior Circuit emerged with a convincing 154-98 edge this season. The .611 winning percentage would lead four of the six Major League divisions.

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So, what does that prove?

Well, for one thing, the Interleague Play outcome strongly suggests that the AL should be heavily favored to extend its All-Star Game winning streak to nine in a row when the Midsummer Classic is played at Pittsburgh's PNC Park on July 11. That would earn the AL home-field advantage for the World Series, although the AL champions haven't lost a Fall Classic game at home or away since 2003.

But as any NL executive, player, employee and/or fan would tell you, the Interleague Play numbers can be deceiving.

And there is some validity to that.

As one-sided as the AL dominance appears to look on your computer screen, there were plenty of close games played the past two weeks, including 122 games decided by three runs or less. The AL won 77 of them.

Just how good was Interleague Play for the American League this season? There were 22 series sweeps, and the AL wielded the brooms 17 times.

Furthermore, the Kansas City Royals, who are 17-44 against AL teams, had a winning record (10-8) against the NL Central and defeated the cross-state rival Cardinals twice in a three-game series at Kauffman Stadium that ended on Sunday.

The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim and Texas Rangers had the most trouble among AL teams, going 7-11, and the Oakland Athletics posted an 8-10 mark. The other team in the AL West had a lot more fun.

The Mariners used the Interleague Play schedule to climb into second place in the AL West, just one game behind the first-place Athletics, who were shut out twice in Colorado and swept at home by the Arizona Diamondbacks, a team that had lost 11 of its 12 Interleague games before arriving in Oakland.

Mariners catcher Kenji Johjima, who had Interleague experience during his 11-year career in Japan, took to the Major League version quite well in his first season. He had at least one hit in the 15 games he started against NL teams, going 25-for-55 with seven home runs and 18 RBIs.

In four games against the Padres, Johjima went 10-for-20 with four home runs and six RBIs.

Another catcher of note, San Diego's Mike Piazza, continued to add to his record Interleague numbers. Piazza, who ranks first among the all-time NL designated hitters in most games (49), at-bats (191), home runs (10) and RBIs (32), had one homer and five RBIs as the Padres' designated hitter in AL ballparks this season.

The Twins were simply sensational during Interleague Play, especially during their 10-game finishing kick. After losing a 5-3 decision to the Houston Astros on June 21 -- the day before Roger Clemens' regular-season debut -- the Twins outscored their NL opponents, 71-21, and had an overall scoring edge of 124-54 during Interleague Play.

And you know what? The Twins' success against the NL would have made a difference only if they had been playing in another division.

When the two-week Interleague Player stretch started on June 16, the Twins had a 32-34 record and trailed the first-place Tigers by 11 games. After beating the Brewers on Sunday afternoon, the Twins were 45-35 and trailed the Tigers by 10 games.

So, as the teams in their respective leagues spend the remainder of the season playing teams in their own league, this season goes into the history books pretty much as the all-American (League) game.

Other Interleague Play tidbits from 2006:

• Twins catcher Joe Mauer had the highest batting average with a .492 mark, 37 points higher than Johjima.

• David Ortiz and Ryan Howard led their respective leagues in home runs. Ortiz had nine dingers for the Red Sox, and Howard hit eight for the Phillies.

• Ortiz led everyone in RBIs with 21, one more than Mariners left fielder Raul Ibanez, Juan Uribe of the White Sox and Michael Cuddyer and Justin Morneau of the Twins.

• Twins rookie Francisco Liriano had the most wins (five), pitching mate Johan Santana had the lowest ERA (0.82) and Mariners closer J.J. Putz had the most saves (seven).

• Pitchers Josh Beckett of the Red Sox, Kris Benson of the Orioles and Jon Garland of the White Sox hit home runs. Beckett and James Shields of the Devil Rays led all pitchers with three hits, and Jaret Wright of the Yankees had the only game-winning hit by a hurler.

• Mariners left-hander Jamie Moyer had one hit and drove in a run, becoming the oldest AL pitcher to have an RBI in a game since Hoyt Wilhelm did so on Aug. 1, 1967. Wilhelm was six days past his 44th birthday at the time. Moyer is 43.

• The Colorado Rockies posted an 11-4 record and were the only NL team to reach double figures in wins.

• Cardinals designated hitters batted .342, going 13-for-38 with one home run and five RBIs, while, at the other end of the spectrum, the Los Angeles Dodgers' DHs went 6-for-37 (.162) with no home runs and two RBIs.

• The White Sox scored the most runs in one game, 20, against the Cardinals on June 20.

• The best day for the AL came on June 24, when it won 11 of the 13 Interleague games. The best day for the NL was the final day, when it won eight games, and Interleague Play ended.

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

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