Bronx, N.Y., July 15, 2008 — The grand old edifice that is Yankee Stadium gave a pretty strong indication on Tuesday night that it is in no rush to reach obsolescence. Perhaps sparked by a visit from a dazzlingly long list of some of the greatest athletes to ever play the game, the Baseball Cathedral hosted the longest All Star Game, by time, in baseball history.
It was a night, first and foremost, of great pitching, and only six of 23 pitchers who took the mound were scored upon. There were professional at bats and big hits, of course, but over and over, the moundmen bested the batsmen, with some quality help from the defenses as well.
But this was a game that had everything, and that includes some sloppy “D” as well, along with some poor at bats. One hopes young NL ALL Star Dan Uggla, for instance, was happy with his six home runs in Monday’s Home Run Derby. On Tuesday, he not only went hitless in four at bats; three were strike outs, and the other was a ground double play at one of the game’s critical moments. If that weren’t enough, he set a record with three errors, even if two of them did more to display the AL team’s offensive ineptitude than anything else.
In fact, none of the four NL errors led to runs scored, while the only AL error did, which ironically made the partisan AL crowd extremely happy. On every New York fans’ list for peevish comments about the likelihood the one and only Mariano Rivera would get the opportunity to close this one over him (a scenario that never unfolded), Boston closer Jonathan Papelbon was greeted by boisterous cries the entire time he was on the mound to pitch the top of the eighth. He came on at a critical moment, as his Boston teammmate and eventual game MVP J.D. Drew had just homered to tie matters late (we supposed) in the game. The crowd would have none of it; they were delighted Jonathan failed to hold the tie. Regaling him with cries of “Ma-ri-a-no” and “Overrated,” the throng thrilled to Miguel Tejada’s leadoff single against him, the NL shortstop’s ensuing stolen base, and the throwing error Dioner Navarro made that sent Tejada to third with one down. Hoots of derision rained down on the mound as the NL went ahead on Adrian Gonzalez’s sac fly to right.
The lead did not hold though. San Fran’s Brian Wilson set down two straight in the bottom of the eighth, but when NL Manager Clint Hurdle brought on Mets lefty closer Billy Wagner to face portsided center fielder Grady Sizemore, the strategy backfired on a single, a stolen base, and a run-scoring double by Tampa Bay’s Evan Longoria, the last player to be added to the AL squad.
The ninth passed quickly, as Mariano Rivera relieved Francisco Rodriguez after a walk and an out and closed the top on a strike-’em-out, throw-’em-out dp, and Chicago’s Ryan Dempster struck out the side in the bottom half. Both teams threatened in the 10th, first when Russell Martin and Tejada singled against Rivera to put runners on the corners with one down. But second baseman Ian Kinsler, who seemed to pull up when he had a shot at the Tejada base hit, made quick work of Uggla’s short hopper, scooping to Michael Young who then turned the 4-6-3 dp to close the frame.
I pride myself on never presuming to know what will next happen in a ballgame, but I penciled in “12:__” at the top of my scorecard in the place where the game-ended time goes once second sacker Uggla mishandled back-to-back ground balls on the first two pitches Aaron Cook threw in the bottom of the 10th. Michael Young had scampered around to third on the second miscue, so Hurdle had Carlos Guillen walked to load the bases, and Cook went to work with all seven of the fielders behind him pulled in close. A grounder to deep infield or a fly deep in the outfield would end the game, so the tightened defense was a given. Take your pick; either Cook was superb, as hurlers had been all night, or the AL bats just flopped. Sizemore bounced to second for a force at the plate; Longoria did the same to third. With the defense back in correct position, Justin Morneau made a bid on a grounder to short, but Tejada made a grab, leap, and twisting throw to first just in time for the out.
The AL was back at it in the 11th. Kinsler singled, but was out stealing, then the slow-footed Navarro walked. Drew and Young singles to center sent the Tampa catcher circling third and rambling toward home, but Nate McClouth nailed him with a one-hop throw to the plate. The NL threatened in the 12th with a leadoff Joakim Soria walk to Eric Ludwig that became first and second when Kinsler was late covering first on a sac bunt. Russell Martin bunted the two to second and third, but Soria struck out Uggla, and Baltimore closer George Sherrill came on to strike out Gonzalez.
The AL flopped again in the bottom half, failing to plate Carlos Guillen after a lead-off opposite-field double to the left-field wall. Sizemore moved him to third, but Longoria struck out, and Kinsler bounced out after an intentional walk to Morneau. Each team got one runner on in the 13th, but the only 14th inning excitement came from the Scoreboard personnel, who exhorted the 20,000 or so still remaining to get up for a “14th Inning Stretch,” as we sang Take Me Out to the Ballgame, just as we had seven innings before.
Yankee fans had cheered pinstriped starters Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez lustily early, just as they [we] booed Manny Ramirez, Kevin Youkilis, and Dustin Pedroia. Among that gang just Jeter managed a single, with Pedroia reaching on a walk. Terry Francona got the anemic-hitting Jason Varitek into the game for an inning, but not long enough for the .218 ba to be displayed on the matrix board. As we have related, Papelbon was derided mercilessly and he allowed an (unearned) run, while Mariano Rivera not only closed two frames, he could have emerged the winner had the AL plated a run following the two NL miscues in the 10th.
Which brings us to J.D. Drew, whose two-run, seventh-inning jack, it must be admitted, kept the AL in the game. Drew would single in the 11th and reach on Uggla’s third error in the 13th, with neither leading to a score. But he came to bat in another key moment in the 15th. Morneau led off with a single to center off Philly closer Brad Lidge, and Kinsler lined a bid to left field, only to have Ryan Ludwick make a diving catch. It ranked with the Kinsler dp toss to second, Tejada’s clutch play on Morneau’s short grounder, and McLouth’s fine throw to the plate already mentioned. Left off this list was a fab throw by Ichiro Suzuki that nailed Albert Pujols trying to stretch a single into the right field corner way back in the fourth inning.
Slow-footed Rays (and one-time Yankee) backstop Navarro had struck out twice, walked once, and made a throwing error to this point, but he handled AL pitching for nine innings, and now he singled up the middle, moving Morneau 90 feet. Drew battled Lidge through seven pitches, finally walking after fouling off one two-strike bid, and the AL had the winning run just 90 feet from winning yet again. Weary Yankee fans cheered Drew on finally in this last at bat, and I let loose with them. It finally bore fruit. Milwaukee outfielder Corey Hart was the last entry into the NL squad as his counterpart Logoria had been in the AL, and he was now in his ninth inning in right field. Young lofted a fly ball to medium right, and Hart caught it and threw yet another true NL throw to the plate. But Morneau’s tow beat the tag by inches, and the 15-inning battle was finally over four hours and 50 minutes after it had begun, with a 4-3 AL victory.
A sprint down three levels of Yankee Stadium, and up three platforms to the downtown 4 subway train got me to the last train out of town just in time. A night patrolling the city awaiting the first morning train would have rendered this column impossible to not only begin, let alone finish.
Clement Clarke Moore would have celebrated his 129th birthday the night this epic battle began in Yankee Stadium. Perhaps the name sounds familiar, but not as we approach the dog days of summer. Mr. Moore’s most famous gift to Western culture is a little ditty called ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas. I know I saw inspired play in the Home Office for Baseball, the House That Ruth Built, on Tuesday night and early Wednesday morning. But I’m no Mr. Moore. The way I sum it up, so far, is,
‘Twas the Night…