Published July 12, 2006
PITTSBURGH – The All-Star game was all set up for the National League this time. Trevor Hoffman on the mound, one strike to go, fans on their feet at Pittsburgh's enchanting ballpark. But no matter the setting or the season, the Nationals can't find a way to close out the AL.
Down to a final strike, Michael Young hit a two-run triple off Hoffman for a 3-2 victory Tuesday night that kept the Americans unbeaten for the past decade.
"You're never going to forget these things on this kind of stage," said Hoffman, who has 460 saves. "You feel like you let a lot of people down."
Young took home the MVP award — and the AL won home-field advantage in the World Series for the fourth straight year.
"Nobody wants to make the last out of anything, whether it's a regular season, World Series or an All-Star game," said Troy Glaus, whose double set the stage for Young.
Behind David Wright's homer and some daring, old-style baserunning, the NL took a 2-1 lead into the ninth.
Houston manager Phil Garner went to Hoffman, who is closing in on Lee Smith's career saves record (478) and has converted 24 of 25 chances this season.
After getting two soft comebackers, Hoffman gave up a single to Paul Konerko, who was replaced by pinch-runner Jose Lopez.
Then the NL nearly caught a break — it hasn't had many since its last victory in Philadelphia in 1996.
Glaus' smash bounded over the left-field fence for a ground-rule double, perhaps preventing Lopez from scoring. He was held at third, until Young made that moot.
The Rangers' underrated shortstop lined an 0-2 pitch into right-center and slid into third with what was probably the biggest All-Star game hit since Texas teammate Hank Blalock's go-ahead homer off a normally dominant Eric Gagne in the eighth inning in 2003.
"I'm not going to lie. This is a pretty big highlight in my career," Young said. "No one's really giving huge rallying calls to getting home-field advantage in the World Series, but we're all aware of how important this game is."
Mariano Rivera worked around Lopez's error at third base for the save, retiring Milwaukee slugger Carlos Lee on a popup with a runner on second to make the AL 9-0-1 in the Midsummer Classic over the past 10 years.
The NL's best result was a tie in 2002 in Milwaukee.
Call it a decade of dominance for the American League, which got an early homer from Vladimir Guerrero.
In fact, the AL has owned the NL year round lately, sweeping the last two World Series and winning a whopping 61 percent of interleague games this season.
"I wouldn't necessarily say domination. We got the breaks tonight," Derek Jeter said. "It's one of those things right now. We're on a roll. The NL was on a roll a few years back."
Once the AL was ahead, manager Ozzie Guillen brought in ol' reliable for the New York Yankees. Rivera's third All-Star save tied him with Hall of Famer Dennis Eckersley for the career mark since the stat became official in 1969.
"I was honored. We have a lot of great guys and he chose me, the old one," Rivera said.
Toronto lefty B.J. Ryan got the win with a hitless eighth.
An exhibition played with a crisp, competitive feel, the game was halted before the fifth inning for a ceremony at home plate for a tribute to the late Pirates great Roberto Clemente.
Bud Selig presented the commissioner's historic achievement award to Clemente's widow, Vera, who was escorted to the podium by Pirates Hall of Famer Bill Mazeroski.
Guillen, wearing a Clemente T-shirt under his gray Chicago White Sox road jersey, appeared to wipe tears from his eyes, and highlights of Clemente's stellar career were shown on the video board high above left field.
The Hall of Fame right fielder was killed in a plane crash while delivering relief supplies to earthquake victims in Nicaragua on New Year's Eve 1972.
"Roberto was a hero in every sense of the term," Selig said.
With several National Leaguers admittedly tired of losing, they certainly came out to play.
Garner smartly worked his pitcher-batter matchups — as he said he would — and the NL employed a drastic overshift against Boston slugger David Ortiz.
The AL's 41-year-old starting pitcher, Kenny Rogers of Detroit, made a hard dive for Chase Utley's infield single in the second.
NL starter Brad Penny of the Los Angeles Dodgers said Monday his nerves would be "flowing," and maybe that helped him at the outset.
Popping the mitt of Mets catcher Paul Lo Duca — the two were traded for each other nearly two years ago — Penny struck out Ichiro Suzuki, Jeter and Ortiz in succession with a series of 98 mph fastballs.
The only other pitcher to start an All-Star game with three straight Ks was Boston's Pedro Martinez at Fenway Park in 1999, when he set down former MVPs Barry Larkin, Larry Walker and Sammy Sosa.
Guerrero hit his first All-Star homer in the second off Penny, over the short porch in right field. Wright, who hit 16 homers in the first round of the Home Run Derby before losing to Philadelphia's Ryan Howard in the finals Monday night, connected in the bottom half against Rogers.
"I got a lot of practice last night," Wright said.
Alfonso Soriano and Carlos Beltran each stole a base in the third against strong-armed catcher Ivan Rodriguez, an 11-time Gold Glove winner and 13-time All-Star.
Soriano was on second when Beltran singled, but Toronto's Gold Glove center fielder, Vernon Wells, cut down the speedy Soriano with a perfect throw to the plate.
Beltran reached second on the throw and stole third with two outs — with Albert Pujols at the plate. The Mets' center fielder then scored on a wild pitch by Roy Halladay that glanced off Rodriguez, giving the NL its first lead since that eighth inning in 2003.
"I was prepared to close the game out. I prepared like it was a regular-season game, and came out and threw strikes, but sometimes it happens," Hoffman said.
Notes: Some players and umpires wore yellow wristbands with the initials RCW for Roberto Clemente Walker. Even pitchers were allowed to wear them, on their glove hands. Young's special wristband is headed to the Hall of Fame. ... The NL lost for the first time in five All-Star games in Pittsburgh. ... Wright became the 13th player to homer in his first All-Star game at-bat. ... Beltran played all nine innings, the first All-Star to do it since Ken Griffey Jr. and Ray Lankford in 1997. ... At 2:33, this was the fastest All-Star game since it took 2:26 in 1988. ... A third baseman for most of his career, Glaus shifted to first base for the ninth inning. He's never played the position in a regular-season game. "That made me nervous," he said.