It was an historic night in the Bronx, the last All-Star Game at Yankee Stadium, and there was a touching pregame ceremony involving the living Hall of Famers. It was really first-class stuff, a tribute to both the ballpark and the greatest players the game has produced.
But then the game started, and eventually the National League was also history.
The NL did not go quietly, did not go quickly, did not go until early Wednesday morning, in the 15th inning after a record 4 hours, 50 minutes worth of All-Star baseball. Still, as usual, it went, losing 4-3, to the American League squad.
The AL should have won earlier, leaving a village on base and squandering numerous opportunities. But let us not quibble with inevitability. This was a tight, tense game with a seemingly endless supply of drama, the kind of thing that should occur. As the fourth and final Midsummer Classic at the Stadium, it was in many ways a truly epic event. But as far as the final outcome, it was a day at the office, business as usual, National League comes up short, a real summer rerun -- albeit in an unedited version.
The National League has not won one of these things since 1996, but, as anyone who has been watching knows, it's worse than that. With home-field advantage in the World Series at stake here, the American League once again has a leg up in another World Series.
Since the All-Star Game has determined home-field advantage, the American League has won six straight games. In the past five years with that home-field advantage, the AL has gone 8-2 in the first two games of the World Series. The American League representative has won with a 4-0 sweep in three of the past four World Series.
This is not a fluke. You read all the stuff about how the National League was going to close the gap in Interleague Play this season. That was before the NL went 103-149. That means, against the so-called Junior Circuit, the NL was basically a .400 club, which could basically be the winning percentage of a last-place club.
We can argue about the concept of having home field in the World Series decided by a seemingly unrelated development, the outcome of the All-Star Game. Critics have said this is merely a gimmick, designed to pump TV ratings and mollify Major League Baseball's broadcast partner, FOX TV. The other side of that argument is that there is nothing wrong with having a happy broadcast partner.
The problem with "This Time it Counts," as an All-Star Game promotion, is that it is insulting, even if unintentionally, to the people who have played in the game previously. The implication is that somehow the game used to be less important to the participants. As one Hall of Famer who performed in numerous All-Star Games during the 1970s said:
"We cared about the All-Star Games. There would be take-out slides and brush-back pitches. You see those now? No, you don't. Don't give me 'This time it counts.' We cared plenty about winning the All-Star Game."
At this All-Star Game, at least the Yankee Stadium storyline was preserved. The last All-Star Game in this baseball bastion sort of demanded an AL victory, and that is what eventually occurred.
Boston's J.D. Drew was named the game's Most Valuable Player. Of course, the same Yankees fans who had wildly cheered the AL victory vociferously booed Drew's selection. The lines of league loyalty are not necessarily linear.
The argument could be made that if the two teams played 15 innings, and only one run separated them, that doesn't exactly spell domination. But this argument would carry a lot more weight if the NL didn't have that 12-year winless streak going in this event.
"I'm proud of the way our team played, I'm not happy we lost," NL manager Clint Hurdle said.
OK, but one amazing thing about this game was that none of second baseman Dan Uggla's three errors ended up losing the game for the National League. This was a fascinating contest, but it won't be transformed into many training videos.
Over the past 12 years, the AL stars have been, in one form or another, the more substantial players. Did anybody notice how Justin Morneau, of Canada, and the Minnesota Twins, in that order, quietly won the Home Run Derby and then started the winning All-Star rally and scored the winning run? The 2006 AL MVP is a star you need on your club, unfailingly unassuming, but invariably helpful.
And so, the All-Star Game bids what turns out to be a truly long goodbye to Yankee Stadium. The 2008 Midsummer version was a long and winding road, but like most big games played at Yankee Stadium, the home team won. That was completely fitting given the Stadium's history. And it was completely unsurprising given the All-Star Game's recent history.