Giant of a first inning sets tone for NL's rout

Giant of a first inning sets tone for NL's rout

Giant of a first inning sets tone for NL's rout
KANSAS CITY -- Talk about a lasting first impression. The National League sure knows how to make one.

The NL struck for five runs against American League ace Justin Verlander in the first inning and cruised to an 8-0 victory in the 83rd All-Star Game on Tuesday night with 40,933 fans packing Kauffman Stadium.

It was Kansas City's third Midsummer Classic, and in this longtime AL stronghold, the NL has won all three games. The first two came in 1960 and 1973. This time, though, there was added relevance because the NL, for the third straight year, had won home-field advantage for the World Series.

Giants center fielder Melky Cabrera, back where he played last season for the Royals, earned the Ted Williams Most Valuable Player Award presented by Chevrolet after bashing a two-run homer in the fourth inning to go along with a single and run scored in the NL's big first frame.

"I didn't come to win an MVP. That's just a surprise. It's a great gift that the Lord gave me," Cabrera said. "But the same opportunity that Kansas City gave me last year is the same opportunity that San Francisco is giving me every day to showcase my talent. Again, I'm just very thankful for the fans that voted for me to come here."

AL players must have been blinking in disbelief in the first inning. This was a Verlander they'd rarely seen. The big Tigers right-hander was roughed up for five runs on four hits and two walks as all nine NL batters trouped to the plate in his only inning.

That's right, five runs. It's happened twice before to Verlander in his brilliant career, but this was an awkward time for a repeat -- his first All-Star start.

"Obviously you don't want to go out like that, but hey, I had fun," Verlander said. "That's why I don't try to throw 100 [mph] in the first inning. Doesn't usually work out too well for me."

Even so, Verlander was intent on pleasing the throng at Kauffman.

"Obviously I don't want to give up runs. I know it means something," Verlander said. "But we're here for the fans. I know the fans don't want to see me throw 90 and try to hit the corners. So, just let it heat. Have fun."

It was the NL, though, that had the most fun.

Cabrera's one-out single and Ryan Braun's double off the right-field fence accounted for the first run. Verlander, on a 3-2 pitch, showed some finesse with a third-strike floater that Joey Votto gazed upon in wonder. However, Verlander loaded the bases by walking Carlos Beltran on a 3-2 delivery and Buster Posey on four straight pitches.

"It is surprising, because he's one of the toughest pitchers in the game through the last year," Beltran said. "Normally, when you face him during the season, you get 90, 91 [mph] early in the game. But he came out firing 97, 98. He was missing his spots, and we were able to capitalize."

Pablo Sandoval, the Kung Fu Panda of the Giants, launched a liner down the right-field line that struck the wall just fair and rolled away from Jose Bautista for a three-run triple.

"I just got a pitch I can hit," Sandoval said. "He didn't have command of his fastball. I just got a curveball right there, hanging, so I put a ball on the wall."

Panda trundled home on Dan Uggla's infield hit, a grounder to shortstop Derek Jeter. Finally, on his 35th pitch of the inning, Verlander got Rafael Furcal to bounce into the third out.

But it was 5-0, sucking some air out of the AL-leaning crowd.

Verlander became only the third pitcher to give up five or more earned runs in one inning or less. The others were Atlee Hammaker of the Giants in 1983 and Sandy Consuegra of the White Sox in 1954.

Such a first-inning outpouring of runs happened just once before, in 2004 when the AL scored six runs at Minute Maid Park in Houston. It also matched the NL's biggest inning in All-Star history.

Matt Cain, the NL version of a hard-throwing right-hander, had much better luck. After a leadoff infield single by Jeter, the Giants' perfect game pitcher whizzed through two scoreless innings and registered on his best moments meter.

"It's definitely right up there with all of them. All the nerves, all the pressure and all the excitement," Cain said. "That was a thrilling two innings right there."

A Cardinals twosome combined for the NL's sixth run in the fourth inning against Rangers lefty Matt Harrison. Furcal laced a two-out triple into the right-field corner, and he scored on pinch-hitter Matt Holliday's single to right.

But wait, these guys weren't finished. Cabrera lined a home run into the left-field bullpen for two more runs and an 8-0 lead. Harrison didn't escape before giving up a triple to Braun, also into the right-field corner. Braun was left at third base, but his triple gave the NL a collection of three, an All-Star Game first.

Just four innings into the game, NL manager Tony La Russa, in his farewell appearance, had all he needed for victory.

"You just don't usually get an eight-run lead in a big game like this," he said. "It was just lucky, like the other 30 years have been for me."

It wasn't the most lopsided shutout win in All-Star history. That was 12-0 by the AL in 1946 at Boston's Fenway Park.

The AL stirred up some mischief in the fifth inning against Dodgers lefty Clayton Kershaw by loading the bases on one-out singles by David Ortiz and Mike Napoli (youngest All-Star Bryce Harper lost the ball in left field) and Asdrubal Cabrera's two-out walk. But the promise fizzled as pinch-hitter Ian Kinsler flied out.

Nothing else developed, which meant that AL manager Ron Washington of the Rangers had become just the second pilot in history to lose two consecutive World Series and two consecutive All-Star Games concurrently with the same clubs. The other was the Braves' Bobby Cox.

Billy Butler, the Royals' representative, pinch-hit for David Ortiz in the seventh inning and grounded out to third base against Cole Hamels. Up again in the ninth, he struck out against Joel Hanrahan.

A poignant moment came in the NL sixth when the Braves' Chipper Jones, heading for retirement, made his final All-Star appearance. He grounded a single into right field against lefty Chris Sales.

This was the first game of his career at Kauffman Stadium.

"Unbelievable. I regret not having been given the opportunity to play here before," Jones said. "It is a beautiful venue. I am happy that I got to play here one time before I retire."

And it was a beautiful evening, the game starting at 90 degrees, with Hall of Famer George Brett, Kansas City's official All-Star Ambassador, tossing the first pitch to Butler, who'd been greeted by a roaring standing ovation.

This game marked a reaffirmation to the country and the world that Kansas City was an old-style baseball town, but with modern amenities, its roots running deeper than just the 1985 World Series title and with a rich history beyond even Brett. By all accounts, the team, the city, state and region hit a tape-measure home run.

"Everything about our stay here was about as perfect as possible, win or lose," La Russa said. "Doesn't surprise anybody. ... That's kind of the way Midwesterners are."

Helps, too, when you go away with a big victory.

Dick Kaegel is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.