AL reign: Can NL finally win All-Star game again?
ANAHEIM – Ryan Howard is sick of all the talk about the American League’s dominance in the All-Star game.
The Phillies slugger knows all too well it’s been 13 years of AL bragging rights. And, no, that wacky 7-7 tie in 2002 did little to boost NL morale in baseball’s Midsummer Classic.
In this year of the pitcher, the National League is downright loaded, even for an All-Star game with the best of the best coming to Orange County on Tuesday night.
“This should be the year for us to go out there and hopefully end this drought,” Howard said. “I’m getting tired of hearing about the American League winning and how long they’ve won, every year for the last 13 years or whatnot. Basically go out there and try to change it up.”
There’s Colorado 15-game winner Ubaldo Jimenez starting at Angel Stadium. In the bullpen: Marlins ace Josh Johnson, Mr. perfect Roy Halladay and two-time reigning NL Cy Young Award winner Tim Lincecum. And so on.
The AL run is one of the more perplexing streaks in sports. Is it simply a quirk, or evidence of true dominance? The American League has ruled interleague play for several years, and also done well in the World Series, winning four of the last six titles.
You’d think the NL might have caught a break at some point in a span of more than a decade, just getting one ball to bounce its way.
In 2008 at Yankee Stadium, the National League had 15 innings to make it happen and came up short. The previous year in San Francisco, a crazy ball off the wall gave Ichiro Suzuki the first inside-the-park home run in All-Star game history.
With a star-studded lineup of New York Yankees gathered in sunny, surf-crazed Southern California, even the Angels’ infamous rally monkey will probably be rooting for the AL if things are close late in the game.
The last time the NL won was 1996, when the Milwaukee Brewers were still in the AL. Not that many remember the 6-0 NL victory at Philly’s old Veterans Stadium.
“This will be Charlie’s second straight year to try to beat that stupid American League jinx,” Phillies chairman Bill Giles said of the Philadelphia and NL skipper, Charlie Manuel. “Charlie, your job’s on the line, man.”
It was Giles’ father, Warren, the former National League president, who used to enter the NL clubhouse and give fired-up speeches to help rally and ready his players for the All-Star game.
These days, there are graphic monkeys bouncing all over the big screen, Thunderstix and Vuvuzelas – oops, not those noisemakers, they aren’t allowed at Angel Stadium.
CC Sabathia isn’t sure any of that stuff really matters much.
“I can’t say it’s better players,” said the burly Yankees ace, who won’t pitch Tuesday. “It’s just one of those things. What is it, 13 years in a row? It’s pretty much luck I guess.”
A new rule keeps Sabathia and other pitchers who started on Sunday from being on the active roster. Tampa Bay lefty David Price will start Tuesday for the AL.
The NL players believe it’s their turn to finally turn the page on this decade-old drought.
And why not think that way? This game is being played within miles of Disneyland – “Happiest Place on Earth” – where thousands of kids (adults, too) get to dream big every day. Six-foot-tall, baseball-themed Mickey Mouse statues, some painted in stars and wearing caps or holding baseballs, are scattered around town.
“We know everyone’s here to have a good time but at the same time our priority is to win the game,” Jimenez said.
To do so, Jimenez and Co. must hold down an AL lineup featuring Josh Hamilton in the cleanup hole and Vladimir Guerrero batting fifth – with sluggers Alex Rodriguez and David Ortiz as backups for manager Joe Girardi.
Boston’s Big Papi won the Home Run Derby on Monday night, hitting 11 homers in the final round to beat Florida’s Hanley Ramirez.
Beating the AL will be a daunting task indeed. Big swings often decide the game.
Still, with the likes of Albert Pujols and Howard on the NL side, it would look pretty even. “We came back against the National League bullpen in 2003,” said All-Star coach Bud Black of the NL West-leading San Diego Padres. “I can’t explain (the streak). I wish I knew. There’s mutual respect league to league. I don’t think the AL senses any superiority at all. Even going back to my playing days in both leagues there was never that sense.”
Aside from having fun with peers during a short break from the demands of the 162-game schedule, everybody involved wants to shine at the All-Star game. Just do a little something.
Angels center fielder Torii Hunter has plans to make the highlight reels.
“I’m going to take a home run away from somebody and duplicate what I did in 2002 taking a home run away from Barry Bonds,” Hunter said with a grin.
He insists he will crash into the wall to do it if need be.
Home-field advantage for the World Series is on the line.
“Now with what’s at stake,” said NL coach Bruce Bochy of the San Francisco Giants, “the National League needs to stop this.”
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