AL unbeatable again

Down to last strike, team wins on Young's 2-run triple

American League 3 National League 2

All-Star Game

July 12, 2006|By DAN CONNOLLY | DAN CONNOLLY,SUN REPORTER

PITTSBURGH -- If conventional wisdom had prevailed, the 77th All-Star Game would have been a slugfest won by the ever-so-dominant American League.

Balls would have been flying out of PNC Park and names like Ortiz and Rodriguez and Pujols would have been slowly circling the bases at will, spinning the scoreboard the way it had been done the past four years.

Once again, though, baseball threw convention a curve.

Pitchers ruled until the ninth inning, when possibly the sport's most unheralded hitting star tripled with two outs and two strikes to give the AL a 3-2 win and extend its All-Star unbeaten streak to 10 games.

"It feels great, I'm not going to lie," said Texas Rangers shortstop Michael Young, whose two-run triple off San Diego Padres closer Trevor Hoffman earned him the Most Valuable Player Award.

Technically, the AL's dominance continues, and it won home-field advantage in the World Series for the fourth consecutive year.

But make this one dominance with an asterisk, because the National League was one strike away from ending its skid.

Leading 2-1 in the ninth, Hoffman got two quick comebackers to the mound, the second by Orioles shortstop Miguel Tejada in his only at-bat of the night.

"Two quick outs," said NL manager Phil Garner of the Houston Astros. "Couldn't have scripted it any better."

Then Chicago White Sox first baseman Paul Konerko singled and the Toronto Blue Jays' Troy Glaus followed with a ground-rule double to left to move pinch runner Jose Lopez to third.

Instead of scoring the tying run, it set up the hero's role for Young, a three-time All-Star who is often overshadowed by bigger names. He was down 0-2 in the count when he hit Hoffman's fastball into the right-center gap.

"We were on the verge and we got a big hit from Michael Young," Konerko said. "I'm happy for him because he is maybe the most underrated player in the game, definitely in the American League. He's on that big stage now and everybody saw him and he's getting some due credit, and good for him."

It also turned Hoffman, a likely future Hall of Famer, into the night's goat.

"I had nobody on and two outs. I've got to get the job done," Hoffman said. "That elusive 27th out is pretty big sometimes."

New York Yankees closer Mariano Rivera entered in the bottom of the ninth and - despite an error by Lopez at third - picked up the save, his third in All-Star competition, which ties Dennis Eckersley for the most.

Former Oriole and current Toronto closer B.J. Ryan got the win with a scoreless eighth.

It was just another routine victory for the AL and another loss for the NL, which also has dropped 10 of the past 14 World Series.

"It doesn't sting at all," Garner said. "This was a well-played game, a nice game."

The National League took a one-run lead in the third - and nearly scored twice.

Washington Nationals left fielder Alfonso Soriano started the inning with a single off Toronto's Roy Halladay. Soriano then stole second and attempted to score on a single to center by New York Mets outfielder Carlos Beltran.

But Toronto center fielder Vernon Wells threw a perfect, one-hop strike to AL catcher Ivan Rodriguez, who blocked the plate and simultaneously tagged Soriano's hand for the out.

The NL still scored, though, after Beltran, who had moved to second on Wells' throw, stole third and dashed home on a wild pitch by Halladay.

The only other runs scored came on bases-empty homers.

Los Angeles Angels outfielder Vladimir Guerrero gave the American League the early lead in the second when NL starter Brad Penny tried to sneak a 98-mph, eye-high fastball past Guerrero. The pitch was so high, NL catcher Paul Lo Duca stood up.

But Guerrero, a notorious bad-ball hitter, crushed the pitch into the right-field stands for a 1-0 lead. It was the only hit allowed by Penny, who struck out the side in the first inning.

The National League tied it 1-1 in the bottom of the second, when Mets third baseman David Wright lined Kenny Rogers' breaking ball over the left-field wall. It was the first pitch Wright, 23, had seen as an All-Star. He became the 13th player in the game's history to homer in his first All-Star at-bat.

The NL took a 2-1 lead in the third when Beltran scored on a wild pitch, but there was no more scoring for five innings - an unexpected development in a crisp 2-hour, 33-minute game.

One that's method was different - it was the first time in four years that fewer than 12 runs were scored - but whose outcome ended up the same.

"That went from being a ho-hum All-Star Game that you probably wouldn't take too much note of it to probably one of the better games [ever]," Konerko said. "I mean, how many All-Star games come down to the final at-bat? That's cool to be a part of that, especially on the winning side."

dan.connolly@baltsun.com

ALL-STAR RECAP

Most Valuable Player

Michael Young, Rangers -- Young (above) hit a two-out, two-run triple in the ninth to give the AL the winning margin.

How Tejada fared

After entering the game in the sixth inning, Orioles shortstop Miguel Tejada grounded out in the ninth in his only at-bat.

Home runs

AL -- Vladimir Guerrero, second inning, off Brad Penny.

NL -- David Wright, second inning, off Kenny Rogers.

Pitching

Winner -- B.J. Ryan

Loser -- Trevor Hoffman

Save -- Mariano Rivera

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