Canada's Mackenzie Brothers, comedians of The Great White North, would know just what to say to the comatose American League after its 11th consecutive All-Star game defeat tonight.
"Whatta buncha hose heads, aaaaay? Take off."
In a 4-1 noncontest that probably should have been condensed to 30 seconds of highlights and shown on Second City TV sometime long after midnight, the National League won its 19th All-Star Game in the last 20 years.
From the moment game-MVP Dave Concepcion hit a two-run homer off loser Dennis Eckersley in the second inning, the NL led for keeps. Thereafter, this Foregone Conclusion Classic went quietly to sleep as NL Manager Tommy Lasorda used seven pitchers, making his switches more out of sentiment than necessity.
"The American League team is just not as outgoing, collectively, as ours," analyzed Al Oliver, a four-time NL star who played on the AL side the previous two years. "There's just much more enthusiasm and determination to win on the National League side. No question about it."
The American League--henceforth to be referred to as the Inferior League or IL--outdid itself tonight with its inability to capitalize on a half-dozen first-rate scoring opportunities. The IL put 13 runners on base, including superthief Rickey Henderson four times, yet, after the first inning, failed in every clutch situation.
Of 10 American League strikeouts, seven came with men on base as the IL stranded 11 men. Three symbolically snuffed-out rallies epitomized the IL's keen frustration. In the fourth, Steve Carlton walked two men, then fanned Carlton Fisk and Andre Thornton effortlessly to end the inning. In the seventh, with men on second and third, Mario Soto whiffed Willie Wilson and Buddy Bell to end the frame. And, after Fernando Valenzuela walked a pair in the eighth, Greg Minton came in to get Lance Parrish to dribble to short (Ozzie Smith making a fine play) on the first pitch.
"We had every opportunity," murmured IL Manager Billy Martin.
The NL proved here in Olympic Stadium before 59,057 fans that it can beat the befuddled IL just as convincingly in Canada as it always does in the United States. In this 53rd All-Star affair, the first played outside the United States, the NL had an appropriately international cast of heros.
Venezuelan Concepcion got the titular game-winning hit with his hooking blast just inside the left field foul pole.
Pete Rose, American as they come, added a sacrifice fly in the third and Montreal hero Gary Carter, who Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau says could steal his job any time, got an RBI single in the sixth.
The delighted winning pitcher was Montreal Expo ace Steve Rogers (one run in three innings), though his six followers all pitched shutout ball: Carlton (home planet unknown), Soto (Dominican Republic), Valenzuela (Mexico), Minton, Steve Howe and Tom Hume.
Two ILs particularly distinguished themselves: Henderson who had three hits, a walk and a stolen base, and catcher Parrish who had a double, threw out three base stealers and made an outstanding catch on a foul pop.
For the fourth time in the past five years, the IL scored first, this time with a run in the first. That, however, was a hard crust to swallow; in truth, they might have had a big, significant inning, not a paltry little one.
Henderson singled to left, took second on the first of George Brett's two singles and advanced to third on a Rogers wild pitch. Then, with men on second and third, the NL got its one big break of the game--the only one it needed. Reggie Jackson blasted ball into the left field stands--foul by a yard, at most. That was the IL's finest moment.
After fighting off a pair of 3-2 pitches, Jackson cracked a deep sacrifice fly to center, scoring Henderson.
Brett, napping on second, failed to take third. That, as justice would have it, cost the IL a run. Cecil Cooper hit a chop over the mound for a scratch hit that would have scored a man from third. That rally died, as so many more would also, with a strikeout, this time by Robin Yount.
As is their custom, the NL, which has trailed at one point or another in the last five All-Star games, rebutted quickly.
After retiring the NL's first five hitters crisply, Eckersley carelessly walked Dale Murphy in the second. Up came Concepcion--part of the supposedly punchless half of the NL order. After all, four NL regulars--Concepcion, Rose, Manny Trillo and Tim Raines--entered the game with just four homers among them in more than 1,000 at bats.
More National League trickery, as it proved. On a 1-1 slider on his fists, Concepcion opened his hips and hooked a smoking liner around the pole. His first All-Star homer was fair by as much as Jackson's had been foul.
Almost every twist of this game seemed to conspire to put the junior circuit in an even more embarrassing light than usual.
For instance, Ruppert Jones' leadoff triple in the third inning--he scored on Rose's fly--was a blast that most right fielders probably would have snagged with an under-control cruising catch. Jackson managed to make the ball look utterly unplayable.
When Oliver opened the sixth with a chop hit over third, Henderson, trying to dig the ball out down the line, was practically flipped on his head when his foot caught in one of the ancient, worn-out seams in the lousy Olympic Stadium turf. The 'Big O' has already cost $700 million (without dome), but it has a playing surface that's a menace. The ball trickled past Henderson for three bases--double and an error.
Even the two-out Carter single that scored Oliver was an ankle-high liner that rolled out of center fielder Willie Wilson's glove.
"I know how much we needed to win this game," said Parrish. "Now they are going to rub it in our face all year long. I can't explain it. But I don't believe they are any better than us. The talent is equal . . . They just got the big hits and we didn't. No one will ever convince me they are better than us."
In a sense, Parrish probably is right. The IL's real problem is not that its players are significantly inferior--after all, a Triple A team could win more than one game in 20 years. The difficulty, so apparent tonight, is that the American League is trying so hard--much, much too hard--that in clutch situations, it appears helpless. As the cliche goes, the first five letters of "pressure" are "press," and the American League epitomizes the corosive power of pressing under pressure.
"I didn't think this was a dull ball game," said Lasorda at a postgame press conference. "You weren't sitting where I was when those big bats were comin' up to the plate . . . when Soto struck out Wilson and Bell (on changeups) with men on second and third (in the seventh), if that's not exciting, I'm watching the wrong damn ball game."
No doubt Lasorda is right. Yet, to those who have been watching the uptight American League leave vital runners on the bases for 11 straight years, it has begun to seem that this is not a game so much as an agonizing annual psychological instant replay.