A.L. wins All-Star marathon

After 15 innings and almost five hours, Yankee Stadium's last Midsummer Classic ends the way they all do these days.


King Kaufman
July 16, 2008 3:00PM (UTC)

I don't want to say the All-Star Game was long, but when it started, Yogi Berra was young.

It took the American League 15 innings and almost five hours to beat the National League 4-3. The ending was ironic for a game that featured plenty of crisp play and several examples of sparkling defense: Michael Young of Texas lifted a weak fly to right and slow-footed Minnesota first baseman Justin Morneau tagged and rumbled down the line, beating an anemic two-bounce throw by Milwaukee right fielder Corey Hart to score the winning run.

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Not exactly a straight steal of home, but with 2 a.m. EDT approaching and both teams out of pitchers, anything would have worked.

A little factoid that might have escaped your notice if you watched the game or followed any of the coverage over the last few days is that this was the last All-Star Game at Yankee Stadium, which is closing after this season. That angle gave Fox a chance to bring out the purple prose and French horns it only uses for company, but the network did the strangest thing: It put on a pretty decent show.

The pregame stuff was about as classy as this sort of thing can be, with sundry Hall of Famers arrayed at their old spots on the field and the starting lineups introduced by position, rather than the traditional introduction by batting order, visiting team first, home team second, along the baselines.

So the two starting pitchers, Ben Sheets and Cliff Lee, were announced first, and they trotted out to the mound, where they got to meet and greet Steve Carlton, Dennis Eckersley, Bob Feller, Rollie Fingers, Bob Gibson, Fergie Jenkins, Juan Marichal, Phil Niekro, Jim Palmer, Gaylord Perry, Robin Roberts, Bruce Sutter, Don Sutton, Goose Gossage and Whitey Ford.

A lip-read on Sheets as he approached the group: "Wow." Funny little weird moment: Willie Mays ignoring Josh Hamilton in center field, not even turning around to look at him when Hamilton patted Mays on the back to get his attention.

The eulogies for the big ballpark in the Bronx went on all night. Nobody mentioned the nasty smell, or even that Yankee Stadium really isn't the cathedral where the Bambino and the Iron Horse and the Yankee Clipper and the Mick ran around in pinstriped rompers.

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That place died in the '70s remodel, an aesthetically challenged endeavor typical of its time. For the last 30 years or so, Yankee Stadium's essentially been a cookie-cutter midcentury stadium occupying the same ground as the House That Ruth Built. The new park will be more like the old park than the old park was.

The old dump coughed up a humdinger of an All-Star Game, though. The pitchers were the stars, with Colorado right-hander Aaron Cook worthy of special mention for going three innings, more than any other pitcher, and for working out of a bases-loaded, no outs jam in the 10th, the third out coming on an acrobatic play by Houston shortstop Miguel Tejada.

The American League should have won in the 11th inning -- beating Cook -- when Dioner Navarro beat center fielder Nate McLouth's throw home on Young's single, but umpire Derryl Cousins called him out.

The American League used 12 pitchers, the National League 11, which was all of them. Philadelphia's Brad Lidge and Tampa Bay's Scott Kazmir, in at the end, were the last men standing. "I know nobody would have wanted to start marching position players out there to decide who has home-field advantage in the World Series," Lidge, the losing pitcher, said.

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Well, nobody but commissioner Bud Selig, whose dumb idea the home-field advantage business was. The home-field rule was instituted after the 2002 tie-game crisis, though in typical baseball fashion, it didn't address the problem of the teams running out of pitchers in extra innings but the separate problem of players and fans not caring about the game.

Incredibly, there's still no contingency plan for an All-Star Game that outruns the availability of pitchers. MVP J.D. Drew, who homered, singled and walked, was reportedly prepared for duty as an emergency hurler.

One wasn't needed this time. Morneau slid home with the American League's 11th straight win, not counting the tie game. So the World Series will open in the A.L. park again this fall. With the Yankees in third place, six games out, it's not impossible but not likely that Yankee Stadium will be that park.

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If this was a last hurrah on the national stage, it was a good one. Even George Steinbrenner showed up for it. He was driven to the center of the diamond as the pregame wrapped up so he could deliver first-pitch baseballs to the four Yankees Hall of Famers who would throw them: Berra, Ford, Gossage and Reggie Jackson.

Amid all the pomp and ceremony, the French horns braying in the background, Steinbrenner pulled the balls out of a crumpled-up manila envelope. It was somehow fitting. I've convinced myself it was the envelope that was used to mail Babe Ruth his first Yankees contract.

Or, at least, an envelope the Yankees bought in the '70s to replace it.

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King Kaufman

King Kaufman is a senior writer for Salon. You can e-mail him at king at salon dot com. Facebook / Twitter / Tumblr

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