By Dave Sheinin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, July 16, 2008
NEW YORK, July 15 -- The stirring pregame ceremony was a distant memory, the overcooked closer-subplot reduced to mere tabloid frivolity. The focus had shifted entirely from the historic setting and the petty squabbles to the astonishing spectacle on the field, as the final all-star game at grand old Yankee Stadium lurched deeper into Wednesday morning -- the innings creeping by without resolution, the bases constantly full of base runners who inevitably were marooned there, the worried managers down to their last available pitchers.
On the night the greater baseball nation bade a fond farewell to its most storied and exalted venue, the game itself rose from a vehicle for ceremony to an instant classic, a reminder that even the House That Ruth Built would be just another crumbling building without baseball as its soul.
The longest game in all-star game history ended at 1:37 a.m. -- just shy of the five-hour mark -- when Michael Young's sacrifice fly in the bottom of the 15th scored Justin Morneau just ahead of the tag, giving the American League a 4-3 win. It kept the AL undefeated since 1997 and spared Major League Baseball the possibility of its second tie game this decade.
By the time the crowd went into its encore of "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" -- this time as the 14th-inning stretch -- the unpleasant memories of 2002 were unavoidable. That was the infamous 11-inning tie game in Milwaukee that spawned a roster expansion, as well as the idea, now well-established, of linking home-field advantage to the all-star game's outcome. Both were designed to avoid another tie.
But both teams called upon their final available pitchers in the 15th, Tampa Bay's Scott Kazmir for the AL and Philadelphia's Brad Lidge for the NL. Kazmir had thrown 104 pitches just two days earlier. Arizona's Brandon Webb, who had entered to pitch the bottom of the 14th, had thrown 108 pitches on Sunday.
"I've probably got a zero percent chance of throwing," Webb had told reporters on Monday.
And then there was Tim Lincecum, the flu-stricken San Francisco Giants pitcher. At some point, in his sickbed somewhere in midtown Manhattan, was he prepared to grab his spikes and hop the No. 4 train to the Bronx?
The National League, behind Colorado Rockies pitcher Aaron Cook, pulled off astonishing escapes in the bottom of the 10th, 11th and 12th innings, all of them featuring an AL runner on third base with less than two outs -- including a bases-loaded, no-out jam in the 10th.
Defense saved the NL each time -- a frantic charge-and-throw by shortstop Miguel Tejada, a game-saving throw to nail a runner at home plate by center fielder Nate McLouth, a couple of nifty plays by Washington's Cristian Guzmán, a shortstop playing out of position at third base.
Rendered moot, but in a delicious way, was all that speculation about whether Boston Red Sox Manager Terry Francona, the AL's skipper, would use Yankees legend Mariano Rivera or his own Jonathan Papelbon to close the historic game.
It was a tie game in the eighth inning when Papelbon entered -- to a chorus of boos from the sell-out crowd of 55,632, followed by derisive chants ("Ma-ri-a-no!" and "Ov-er-ra-ted!") -- and thanks to his blown save, it was a one-run lead for the NL by the time Papelbon exited. Miguel Tejada led off with a single, stole second, went to third on a throwing error by catcher Dioner Navarro and scored on Adrian Gonzalez's sacrifice fly.
Rivera, who was warming up as the AL tied the game in the bottom of the eighth on Tampa Bay rookie Evan Longoria's RBI double off Billy Wagner, still got his moment, of course.
There was one out, one on in the ninth when the doors to the bullpen opened, separating the panels of an advertisement for a Japanese newspaper, and onto the playing field jogged Rivera, holding his black glove in his throwing hand. His heavy-metal entrance music was nearly drowned by the applause that had begun to swell the moment Francona emerged from the dugout to bring him in.
The National League last won an all-star game in 1996, which was so long ago the NL turned an Ozzie-Smith-to-Eric-Young-to-Jeff-Bagwell double play, and the first three AL pitchers were Charles Nagy, Chuck Finley and Roger Pavlik.
Before the game, there was the pregame, and it is a tossup as to which was treated with greater importance.
The pregame ceremony summoned every remaining ounce of romanticism the old ballyard could muster, with the starters joined at their positions by 49 living Hall of Famers -- the loudest ovations saved for the current and former greats wearing Yankee caps, the only boos reserved for members of the Red Sox and Mets -- and a surprise appearance at the end by George Steinbrenner, the Yankees' ailing, 78-year-old owner, who appeared to be crying as he was wheeled in on a golf cart, his first appearance at the stadium this year.
Steinbrenner hugged ex-Yankees Goose Gossage, Reggie Jackson, Whitey Ford and Yogi Berra, who then gathered in front of the mound and threw ceremonial first pitches to current Yankees Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Rivera and Manager Joe Girardi.
"That was a special moment," Rodriguez said later. "New York really knows how to do it right."
New York indeed did it right, even if it did not know exactly when enough was enough.