After being held in check for much of the 77th Midsummer Classic on Tuesday night, the AL boppers came to life for two runs after two outs in the ninth inning in its dramatic 3-2 win before a stunned crowd of 38,904 at PNC Park.
The loss dropped the NL record in All-Star Games to 0-9-1 since the league's last win in Philadelphia in 1996, and it's tough to imagine a more deflating defeat for the Senior Circuit.
Staked to a 2-1 lead in the ninth inning, thanks to some good old-fashioned NL small ball, Padres closer Trevor Hoffman quickly retired the first two batters he faced on ground balls back to the mound.
"Two quick outs. I couldn't have scripted it any better," said NL manager Phil Garner.
However, needing just one out to end the 10-year slide, the typically ultra-reliable Hoffman couldn't close the deal.
White Sox slugger Paul Konerko hit the first pitch he saw from Hoffman just to the left of NL third baseman Miguel Cabrera to keep the AL's hopes alive.
"I was just trying to be aggressive up there and swing the bat," said Konerko. "I got jammed and ... I hit it off the end [of the bat]. I just had good placement."
Troy Glaus nearly tied the game one batter later with a double to deep left field. But the ball bounced into the bleacher seats and pinch-runner Jose Lopez was forced to hold steady at third base.
"I was just trying to extend the inning at that point," said Glaus. "It was a bit of a bad break. I think Jose would have scored on that."
Hoffman wasn't able to take advantage of his second chance. After getting ahead of Rangers shortstop Michael Young with two quick strikes, Hoffman served up a two-run triple to Young that proved to be the decisive blow.
"It's not much fun. That's why this role is what it is," said Hoffman. "You've got to close the door there when you've got them down."
"It's unfortunate," said Garner. "[Hoffman] is a great closer. If we had the same situation tomorrow night, we'd do the same thing. He's been fantastic."
Young said he was just trying to put the ball in play.
"Down 0-2 to a guy like [Hoffman] is tough and I knew I had my work cut out for me," said Young.
As a result of his clutch hit, Young was voted the Ted Williams All-Star Game MVP presented by Chevrolet. He joins Alfonso Soriano (2004) and Julio Franco (1990) as the third Rangers player to be so honored.
"I'm not going to lie. This is a pretty big highlight in my baseball career," said Young. "I think everyone dreams of having a big All-Star Game. Even coming to the All-Star Game is humbling enough, but to be in this situation now where I have an All-Star Game MVP is pretty exciting."
It should no surprise to Rangers fans that Young was able to come though in the clutch. His .409 batting average while hitting with runners in scoring position is the highest in the American League.
"I think [Young] is one of the most underrated players in the American League," said AL manager Ozzie Guillen, who assured his league of home-field advantage in the World Series for the fourth consecutive year. "This kid can do a lot of things and nobody talks about it."
For the first 8 2/3 innings of the game, it appeared though the NL would go back to its roots and end the long All-Star Game drought by using the tried and true combination of pitching, speed and defense to overcome the more powerful AL lineup.
After Vladimir Guerrero of the Angels and David Wright of the Mets exchanged solo home runs in the second inning to get the long balls out of the way, the NL took advantage of its speed by running on Detroit's 11-time Gold Glove Award-winning catcher Ivan Rodriguez.
Soriano singled with one out and swiped second, but he was thrown out at home plate by Vernon Wells when he ran through third-base coach Jerry Narron's stop sign on a single to center field by Carlos Beltran. The fleet Beltran advanced to second on the throw to the plate, stole third and scampered home with the go-ahead run on a wild pitch by Toronto right-hander Roy Halladay.
Dodgers right-hander Brad Penny set the tone for the NL pitchers by striking out Ichiro Suzuki, Derek Jeter and David Ortiz in the first inning on nothing but 96-99 mph fastballs. Penny's lone blemish came in the second inning on Guerrero's first career All-Star home run, a 356-foot opposite-field shot to right that opened the scoring.
"I never thought Penny could throw 98, 99 [mph] on this stage," said Guillen, who was a coach in Florida during Penny's days with the Marlins. "I know Penny was pumped up. He's one of the best. [But] I coached him for a couple of years and I've never seen him throw the ball that well."
Roy Oswalt, Brandon Webb, Bronson Arroyo, Brian Fuentes, Derrick Turnbow and Tom Gordon yielded just three hits over the next six innings to preserve the slim NL lead.
"The pitching was excellent, especially in the National League," Young said. "Up until the last inning we had three hits. ... They were doing a great job."
Wright, who was the runner-up to Ryan Howard on Monday night in the CENTURY 21 Home Run Derby, tied the game by depositing the first pitch he'd ever seen as an All-Star into the left-field bleachers off AL starter Kenny Rogers. The Mets third baseman became the 13th player in All-Star history to homer in his first at-bat and the first since Hank Blalock in 2003.
"I just went up there and tried to relax and be aggressive," Wright said. "With the All-Star Game, you have to get your hacks in, so I went up there, got a good pitch to hit and got a nice easy swing on it."
The NL starting staff was aided by several defensive gems, including two by Bucs hometown hero Freddy Sanchez. He pulled off the defensive play of the night, leaping high in the air to rob Boston's Mark Loretta of a hit after coming in to the game as a defensive replacement in the fifth inning, and was serenaded by the sellout crowd as he jogged off the field. The versatile Sanchez also ranged far to his right at second base to retire Grady Sizemore for the final out of the eighth inning.
"I didn't even expect to play," said Sanchez. "Awesome fans, awesome atmosphere. Hopefully, I get the experience it again."
Earlier in the night, Sanchez and Pirates teammate Jason Bay received boisterous standing ovations from the home crowd during the player introductions.
"It's something I will never forget," Bay said. "I was just trying not to trip up the stairs."
Bay, the first Pirates player to be voted in by the fans since Andy Van Slyke, went 1-for-3 with a single and two strikeouts. Sanchez grounded out in each of his two at-bats.
In a poignant moment underlying the rich baseball history in Pittsburgh, the game was interrupted before the start of the fifth inning so that Commissioner Bud Selig could present Vera Clemente, widow of Pirates legend Roberto Clemente, with the Commissioner's Historic Achievement Award in honor of her late husband's achievements on and off the baseball diamond.
"Roberto will be remembered as long as the game of baseball is played," said Selig.
The loss was the first for the NL in five All-Star Games hosted by Pittsburgh.
"You tip your cap to the guys who came back in the ninth inning," said Garner. "Obviously, I'd love to win the game. But I'm not disappointed. It was well-played."
Ed Eagle is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.