SURPRISE, Ariz. -- The event was set up as Stephen Strasburg's coming-out party. That didn't happen, but the injury-forced absence of the nation's No. 1 Draft pick and prospect did not keep a record crowd from coming out to glimpse the future. By the time the turnstiles stopped turning, there were 4,550 in Surprise Stadium for the Rising Stars Game, about 10 times the typical Arizona Fall League crowd and the largest in the all-star game's four-year history. The festive fans' need for action didn't go unanswered, as the West Division pulled out an 8-7 victory over the East on Matt McBride's two-run homer in the bottom of the eighth off Drew Storen.
This was an all-star showcase that featured four homers among 24 hits, four other extra-base knocks, nine walks -- and just enough clutch pitches by the 17 hurlers used to keep it competitive. "The idea is to try to get as many pitchers as we can in the game," said West manager Kevin Bradshaw, "and our bullpen did a heck of a job." Strasburg was kept from his East start by a strained neck muscle. At least, that was the official explanation. Perhaps the Nationals' future just sensed that the early game forecast called for steady showers of hits, with occasional bolts of lightning. Not a good climate for pitchers. The game got off to a loud start when left-hander Mike Minor dug a 7-0 hole for the West in the top of the first, and pitchers were dodging potholes the rest of the night. The West landed a couple of big early counterpunches on Chris Heisey's two-run homer in the bottom of the first and a four-run third keyed by Yonder Alonso's two-run double, then finally broke on top on McBride's towering drive. "I tried to put a good swing on it," McBride, an Indians prospect, said of Storen's fastball, "and make something happen. "This is a great bunch of guys. We weren't going to give up until the last out. We inched our way back." Then McBride hit one a mile. Minor, one of five first-round picks in June's First-Year Player Draft and among the total of 18 first-rounders on the Rising Stars rosters, allowed seven hits and one unearned run among the seven he allowed in two-thirds of an inning. Bradshaw didn't want to subject the Braves prospect to the humility of a first-inning hook, but was left with no choice after Jose Tabata's second single drove in a seventh run. "That was about it," Bradshaw said. "He made some decent pitches and gave up some broken-bat hits. And there were a couple of other balls we should've handled in the infield. But then we had no choice." The big blow was by a name already familiar to local fans -- Brandon Allen, the D-backs' primary first baseman the final five weeks of the season, drilled a three-run homer to dead center. Allen hit a 1-0 slider from Minor. Lest anyone be tempted to shrug off the performers and performances in this game, consider some of the names included in last October's box score: Gordon Beckham, Matt Wieters, Phil Hughes, Brian Matusz, Tommy Hanson. All made Major League impacts this season, with the latter right-hander being a favorite for National League Rookie of the Year honors after going 11-4 with a 2.89 ERA for the Braves. No wonder this Rising Stars Game is informally referred to in baseball inner circles as a "finishing school." No previous "class" had as much electricity as this one -- even without Strasburg. Not only was the attendance exceptional, but the game was carried on MLB Network and streamed live on MLB.TV. "A lot of fun. Nice crowd, television ... couldn't have been a better night," Bradshaw said. While all 30 Major League organizations were represented among the 50 players on the two rosters, four teams shared the honor of two starters each: the Orioles (first baseman Brandon Snyder and third baseman Josh Bell), the A's (left fielder Grant Desme and second baseman Jemile Weeks), the Mariners (center fielder Dustin Ackley and shortstop Carlos Triunfel) and the Reds (left fielder Heisey and first baseman Alonso). Interestingly, there were two Castros in the starting lineups. East shortstop Starlin Castro hails from the Dominican Republic, and West catcher Jason Castro is from a place evidently named for him -- Castro Valley, Calif.