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Senior Circuit takes latest in loss string

Senior Circuit takes latest in loss string

ST. LOUIS -- The National League is in danger of becoming to the All-Star Game what the Cubs are to the World Series -- a complete stranger to victory at any known point in the recent past.

Tuesday night at Busch Stadium the Senior Circuit lost yet another Midsummer Classic, 4-3, to the American League. Yes, it was a fine game, and you could say that the AL won as much as the NL lost. Tampa Bay's Carl Crawford took a home run away from Colorado's Brad Hawpe in the seventh inning. It was a play for the All-Star ages. Crawford was named the game's Most Valuable Player and why not?

Still, this was another All-Star night that did not end in a victory for the NL. This one appeared to be all set up for a breakthrough by the NL, which made the ensuing defeat all the more disappointing for the St. Louis fans, not to mention the fans from the other 15 NL locales.

No, this was not a particularly humiliating defeat. In fact, much of this game ticked along at All-Star level; close, dramatic, worthy plays in every phase of the game.

But it also was not a National League victory. The NL has not won an All-Star Game in this century, or in this millennium if you chose to take the longer view. The National League has not won an All-Star Game in 13 years. If you're one of two Major Leagues you ought to be able to win this kind of event at least once a decade by accident.

If this were English Premier League Soccer, the National League would have been relegated already and would now be playing an All-Star Game against the Pacific Coast League, or possibly, if the slump continued, the Southern League.

The National League does better in October. It does not do better than the American League, but it does better in the World Series than in the All-Star Game. During that same 13-year span in which it won zero All-Star games, the NL has won five World Series. The National League obviously puts together some fine individual clubs and it should. It is a Major League with 16 chances to 14 for the American.

But judging by the complete lack of victories in the last 13 years, the NL might be a little short on depth at the star level compared with the other league. Yes, this is merely an exhibition game, but it is an exhibition game that decides something serious -- home-field advantage in the World Series. Standard exhibition games don't have consequences for defeat. This one does.

You could have sworn before this one started that this could be a National League year. St. Louis is one of America's leading baseball towns by any objective measurement. It has a new ballpark. It has the best hitter in the game, Albert Pujols. Between extolling the virtues of St. Louis as a baseball community, and recognizing the greatness of Pujols -- somehow even better than ever this season -- there was a lot of momentum built up in the direction of the Senior Circuit.

The pageantry was unrivaled. The big names on hand could not legally get any bigger. President Obama threw out the first pitch to -- who else? Pujols. The president can now be called a crafty left-hander. His pitch was good on direction, not much on velocity. Pujols helped the presidential pitch by stepping slightly out in front of the plate to receive it, thereby reducing the possibility of a bounce.

And the four living former U.S. presidents were all on the scoreboard with video messages extolling the virtue of community service, honoring those generous, public-spirited individuals in the "All-Stars Among Us" program. You don't get many sporting events, or many events of any sort, with five American presidents making an appearance. This underscored the importance of the Midsummer Classic, not only as a part of the sports calendar but as part of American culture. But once the game started, that 'Oh no, here we go again' National League feeling arose in the first inning. Pujols committed an error that led to one AL run. This was particularly troubling to Cardinals fans and those of us who had spent much of the past three days deifying the guy. Albert is still human, although he still stretches the bounds of that concept when he is at the plate.

Another run came in when, on a potential double play, NL starter Tim Lincecum was late covering first. One inning, two mistakes, two runs.

Pujols, it must be said, later made two terrific diving stops, showing why he is a complete player. But in these games, with all the talent on hand, the team that wins is the team that makes the big, difference-maker plays. That was Crawford with his catch and Curtis Granderson with a triple made of both speed and intelligence that became the deciding run in the eighth.

One thing that struck you again on Tuesday night is that, as good as some National League relievers obviously are, there is nothing in this league that resembles the bullpen trio that worked the last three innings of this game for the AL -- Jonathan Papelbon, Joe Nathan and Mariano Rivera. AL manager Joe Maddon had no need of matching up against left-handed hitters, right-handed hitters, any sort of hitters.

"During the season I would match up," Maddon said. "But with these stallions in the bullpen, it's not necessary to match up. It was their inning. There's no concern about matching up with those three guys in the bullpen. It's just their inning."

So as usual, the All-Star Game night was also the American League's night. Yes, yes, I know, the NL leads the all-time All-Star series at 40-38-2. But in the past 13 years the NL is 0-12-1. You can call up a lot of terrific National League All-Star memories, but Henry Aaron, Willie Mays, Stan Musial, Bob Gibson, Sandy Koufax; those legendary figures are no longer available to beat the American League.

Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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