"All I can say," Washington had said, "is watch out, Bruce."
Hey, in the decidedly tame world of All-Star taunting (sure, the game controversially counts for something, but any venom in this event is invented), these remarks -- tongue in cheek as they might have been -- qualified as bulletin-board-worthy braggadocio.
And it was confidence sanctioned by statistics. The AL, after all, might have entered the 82nd All-Star Game on a one-game losing streak, but it had claimed 12 of the previous 14 and 18 of the previous 23 meetings, with one infamous 2002 tie.
Pair that past with the power of the AL order (Washington's leadoff
man, Curtis Granderson, has 25 bombs at the break, more than any member of Bochy's NL crew) as well as the noteworthy nugget that the AL had outhomered the NL by a ridiculous 76-19 margin in the previous night's State Farm Home Run Derby, and, well, sure, the AL ambassadors had plenty to boast about before the first pitch was thrown.
Then the first pitch was delivered. And over the course of the next few hours, the AL saw its swagger slip away in a 5-1 loss, its lone run coming on an Adrian Gonzalez solo shot that was too little to carry it and too late to earn him the Derby crown.
That's two runs for the AL in two years, if you're scoring at home (and hopefully, given the usual staggering number of All-Star substitutions, you aren't).
And that's two losses in as many years for a league that has also dropped two of the last three World Series.
"Hopefully [the momentum] doesn't turn and go the other way for a long time," first baseman Paul Konerko said. "I'm not a big fan of the home field being decided by the All-Star Game, so hopefully it bounces back and forth and evens out. I mean, I'd like to keep it in the American League, but I could see where it would be more fair if it bounces back and forth. We didn't get it done this year, we didn't get it done last year, so you feel bad for whoever gets there."
This was an All-Star Game made notorious by who wasn't
here -- namely, a certain 3,000-hit club member with a sore calf and a tired mind.
It would, however, be hard to argue that the AL lost because Derek Jeter cashed in a well-deserved rain check and leaned back on the laurels of 17 seasons' worth of reputable representation. It would be equally difficult to blame Alex Rodriguez's knee going under the knife.
No, the runs come at a premium on this All-Star stage and in this era, so the absence of a couple of Bronx Bombers ranking high in the Q Score ratings likely didn't impact the bottom line. This game was all about pitching, pitching, pitching, and the AL squad simply had too many bullets ripped from its chamber.
Starter Jered Weaver could only work an inning, because the Angels have a doubleheader looming this weekend. And Josh Beckett, further adding credence to the belief that players treat this like the exhibition that it is, pulled himself out of the mix after warming up for the second, citing knee issues.
Couple those developments with the by-the-rules ineligibility of Justin Verlander, James Shields, CC Sabathia and Felix Hernandez, who all pitched Sunday, as well as a turf toe injury to David Price, and Washington had to lean on what little was left. David Robertson filled in admirably in a pinch when Beckett bowed out, and Michael Pineda was straight filth in the third. But Washington's own man, C.J. Wilson, coughed up the AL's 1-0 lead and then the game.
"This is not a game about excuses," Washington said. "I still feel like we had quality pitching. It's not like they ran all over us. They put one big inning together in the fourth, got three runs. And from that point, I thought the pitching we brought in did a good job. You would always like to have the best All-Stars that are out there, but you know, you've got to go with the team you've got, and you can't make any excuses about it, and we are not going to do that. National League beat us."
It's too soon to tell what that victory truly entails, but, if the memory serves, the home-field help boosted Bochy's Giants against Washington's Rangers last fall.
Clearly, then, the boasting now belongs to the Senior Circuit, a "blind pig" with improving vision.
Or does it?
"They've still got a lot of catching up to do," Weaver said with a smile.
All right, so maybe the swagger still stands.