First-time All-Stars Adam Jones and Curtis Granderson teamed up to deliver the winning run for the Junior Circuit, which will have home-field advantage in this year's World Series, but All-Star veterans Jonathan Papelbon, Joe Nathan and Mariano Rivera brought the game home in relief.
"That's what we came here to do," said Rivera, who set a record with the fourth All-Star save of his magnificent career. "We came here with a mission and our mission was accomplished."
Jones' sacrifice fly with one out in the top of the eighth inning scored Granderson, who had tripled, for the winning run. That made a winner of Red Sox closer Papelbon, who pitched a perfect seventh despite a couple of very loud outs. The NL led early and for much of the game, but it couldn't bring home the victory in the late innings.
Thus in many ways, the game followed a very similar script to several recent All-Star Games -- all the way down to the game-winner, as it was the second consecutive year the AL won on a sac fly. Throughout the AL's unbeaten streak, the NL has threatened with many close calls, including four successive one-run losses. But in the end, the AL always comes up with the key hit, the big catch and especially the finishing pitch.
"I give them all the credit in the world," said NL manager Charlie Manuel. "They played a tremendous game. They got big hits when they had to, and they held us at the end."
The game turned drastically within a seven-batter stretch in the seventh and eighth innings.
Facing Papelbon, Brad Hawpe led off the bottom of the seventh with a high, deep drive to left field. All-Star Game MVP Carl Crawford tracked the ball all the way to the wall, timed his leap perfectly and reached over the wall to rob Hawpe of what would have been a tie-breaking homer. Miguel Tejada followed with a deep drive to right field, but his bid for a homer fell just short of the fence.
|The American League hasn't lost an All-Star Game since 1996, a 6-0 National League victory at Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia. The 13-game unbeaten streak is the longest for either side in All-Star history.|
|1997||AL 3, NL 1|| Jacobs Field, Cleveland|
|1998||AL 13, NL 8||Coors Field, Denver|
|1999||AL 4, NL 1||Fenway Park, Boston|
|2000||AL 6, NL 3||Turner Field, Atlanta|
|2001||AL 4, NL 1||Safeco Field, Seattle|
|2002||7-7 tie||Miller Park, Milwaukee|
|2003||AL 7, NL 6||U.S. Cellular Field, Chicago|
|2004||AL 9 ,NL 4||Minute Maid Park, Houston|
|2005||AL 7, NL 5||Comerica Park, Detroit|
|2006||AL 3, NL 2||PNC Park, Pittsburgh|
|2007||AL 5, NL 4||AT&T Park, San Francisco|
|2008||AL 4, NL 3||Yankee Stadium, New York|
|2009||AL 4, NL 3||Busch Stadium, St. Louis|
|Complete All-Star Game results >|
Crawford's catch earned him MVP honors.
"It's got to be the top play [of my career]," Crawford said. "I don't think I've ever robbed a home run before, so I picked a good time to do it tonight. It's definitely probably my best catch I've ever made."
Papelbon struck out Jayson Werth to end the inning, keeping the game tied. After Padres closer Heath Bell got a grounder to open the eighth, Granderson smacked a one-out triple that Justin Upton couldn't corral. Upton, playing left field for the first time, might have been able to play the ball better but it still would have been tough to gun down the speedy Granderson.
"I was waiting to see, did he catch it? ... As soon as it started to kick away, then I go ahead and say, 'Hey, I'm going to third,'" Granderson said.
After an intentional walk to Victor Martinez, Jones delivered the game-winner against Bell, who took the loss.
"It's still surreal to me," said Jones. "Right man at the right time. I'm glad the National League decided to walk Victor Martinez ahead of me."
The end overshadowed what was an entertaining and competitive game throughout. Both starters had some difficulty, and then the bullpens locked down.
NL starter Tim Lincecum got into trouble quickly, allowing a leadoff single to Ichiro Suzuki and hitting Derek Jeter with a pitch. Lincecum nearly got out of it, though. Joe Mauer grounded into a force and Mark Teixeira hit a grounder to Albert Pujols, but Pujols booted the ball and a run scored. After Jason Bay's soft single, Josh Hamilton grounded into a force play to bring home a second AL run.
Pujols made a couple of brilliant plays later in the game, but the Gold Glover's error still proved costly.
"The ball was hit in between second and first, and I just kind of got lost a little bit," Pujols said. "It kind of handcuffed me, because it went through Mauer's legs almost. I kind of lost that vision. But that's an error you don't want to make early in the game like that. It cost us two runs. But hey, it's part of the game. You learn from the experience."
Roy Halladay received that 2-0 lead before he even took the mound, and when he retired the first five NL batters, it appeared he was on his way to a superb night. But David Wright and Shane Victorino slapped two-out singles, and hometown hero Yadier Molina did something very familiar to the home fans when he delivered a clutch two-out hit. A throwing error by Hamilton allowed a second run to score, and Prince Fielder put the NL ahead with a pinch-hit RBI double.
"I think the hardest part is that you have a bunch of guys that you've never seen," Halladay said. "You're not quite sure what to do, but I had a lot of fun. For the most part I felt good. In games like this, you want to go out and you want to be aggressive. If you get hit, it's because you're throwing strikes and making guys swing the bat. I think that's what it's all about."
The lead stood until the fifth, when Mauer lined a two-out double to left field against Chad Billingsley. That scored Jeter, who had beaten out a potential double-play ball one batter earlier.
"I had three at-bats against three pitchers, and they're the best in the game," Mauer said. "So I tried to stay short. He threw me a cutter outside, and I was able to put a good swing on it."
Meanwhile, the AL pitchers were locking down as tight as security for President Barack Obama, who threw out the ceremonial first pitch. AL pitchers retired 18 consecutive batters from the second into the eighth inning, the second longest such streak in All-Star Game history. Mark Buehrle, Zack Greinke, Edwin Jackson, Felix Hernandez and Papelbon all pitched perfect innings before the NL threatened against Nathan in the eighth.
The Twins closer got the first two outs of the inning, but walked Adrian Gonzalez. Orlando Hudson singled off shortstop Jason Bartlett's glove, bringing up the dangerous Ryan Howard. With full faith in his right-hander, though, AL manager Joe Maddon never had a thought of going to lefty -- and AL saves leader -- Brian Fuentes.
"These stallions in the bullpen, it's not necessary to match up," Maddon said. "It was their inning. There's no concern about matching up with those three guys in the bullpen. It's just their inning."
And just as Maddon expected, Nathan escaped. He got Howard to swing at a slider for the strikeout, ending the last real threat for the home team.
"I fouled off a couple fastballs and couldn't hold up on the slider," said Howard, a St. Louis-area native who would have been a huge hero if he'd delivered.
"That's the game of baseball, sometimes it happens like that. I came up a little bit short. I got caught off guard. He threw me a slider and I just couldn't hold up."
And with that out, the game was all but over, because Rivera loomed. The Hall of Fame-bound Yankees closer twirled an utterly uneventful 1-2-3 ninth to pick up the record-breaking save.
Some things just don't change.
"Everyone keeps talking about the winning streak that we have, but there have been a lot of games that could have gone either way," Jeter said. "It says a lot about our pitching. They have great players and a great team, but we're just fortunate."