The American League arguably had superior players in seven out of eight positions. But the National League could have fielded a neighborhood softball team behind the brilliant pitching it got tonight, and the result might have been the same.

Five National League pitchers allowed only five hits and one run -- an unearned one at that -- to shut down the American League, 6-1, before 54,960 in the 56th All-Star Game in the Metrodome.

Did the American League starters really have 118 home runs among them? San Diego's LaMarr Hoyt, who pitched the first three innings and got the victory, certainly wasn't fazed. Nor were Nolan Ryan, Fernando Valenzuela, Jeff Reardon or Goose Gossage, the latter striking Boston's Jim Rice and Rich Gedman to end the game.

The AL came into this midsummer classic clearly superior in talent but wound up losing for the 13th time in 14 years and 36th time against 19 victories and a tie. After taking a 1-0 lead in the first off Hoyt, the American League couldn't score again.

The NL took a 2-1 lead in the third on a run-scoring single by San Diego's Steve Garvey, made it 4-1 in the fifth on a two-run single by Philadelphia's Ozzie Virgil, and closed the scoring in the ninth on a two-run double by St. Louis' Willie McGee.

The biggest surprise other than the lopsided result was that no home runs were hit -- especially by the AL -- in a park where fly balls routinely travel more than 400 feet.

But as NL outfielder Darryl Strawberry said, "Everybody saw the home run hitting contest (Monday) and thought the game would be like that. But the pitchers are no dummies; they saw the same thing."

Hoyt, the 1983 Cy Young winner with Chicago in the AL, who tonight was named the most valuable player, said, "In this league, I've seen pitchers who can absolutely dominate a game. I don't think I saw quite the same kind of pitching in the AL. Our pitchers were pumped up to the max about pitching in this game."

One has to wonder if the AL would have managed as much as a single hit if it had to face the NL's two best pitchers -- Dwight Gooden (13-3), who didn't pitch, and Joaquin Andujar (15-4), who didn't even show up -- in addition to Hoyt, Ryan and the rest.

New York's Rickey Henderson singled to start the American League's first inning, stole second, went to third on catcher Terry Kennedy's throwing error and scored on George Brett's sacrifice fly. That's it.

The AL stole three bases as part of an All-Star record of five. But the Americans took themselves out of a possible eighth-inning rally with bad base running.

Toronto's Damaso Garcia singled to start the inning, stole second and tried to go to third when the throw bounced off Ryne Sandberg's glove. But Reardon got off the mound in time to pick up the ball and throw out Garcia at third. The bonus for the NL was that Seattle's Phil Bradley had struck out for what amounted to a double play.

The AL-oriented crowd kept hoping to get a runner or two on base and see a multirun homer, but it never happened.

Ryan got tough twice when he had to, in the fifth and sixth when Yankees Henderson and Dave Winfield came to the plate, with two out and two on in each situation.

Ryan, who said his control wasn't the best, dusted Henderson with a pitch under the chin, then struck him out to end the fifth. He put Winfield on his seat before inducing a routine groundout to finish the sixth.

Those who expected the AL power hitters to prove the NL's low-scoring season is a farce, waited in vain. Hoyt had a most reasonable explanation for what happened to the AL hitters, tonight and in general.

"They've got a lot of big swingers over there, big boppers who can go deep," he said. "But they all can be pitched to and it tends to show up in All-Star games."

Hoyt said he was surprised the National League didn't hit any home runs, but said he knew once he left the game after the third "that they weren't going to hit any home runs off any of those other guys."

NL Manager Dick Williams of San Diego went into the game with a plan of letting Hoyt and Ryan go three innings; Valenzuela and Reardon once each, and having Gossage mop up. Done.

Hoyt gave up two singles, Ryan two more and Reardon one.

The American League's pitchers, meanwhile, were roughed up. Starter Jack Morris obviously didn't have his best stuff; he bounced several balls in front of the plate. In fact, the vaunted Detroit staff got pushed about pretty well in front of their AL skipper, Sparky Anderson.

Morris gave up the first two runs and Dan Petry retired only one batter, while walking three. The record will show that the 1984 Cy Young winner -- relief ace Willie Hernandez -- was not charged for an earned run.

But it should also note that Hernandez gave up McGee's double, which, if it hadn't bounced over the wall, might have been an inside-the-park homer.

Morris, who had a streak of five scoreless innings in All-Star play ended, said, "I didn't pitch as well as I would have liked. I had a lot of rest and I was probably rushing too much . . . It's more fun to hit here (than it is to pitch)."

Brett, despite what he called "a lot of vim and vigor on our side," said he thought Monday's home run hitting contest, which the AL won, 17-16, before 46,000, was more exciting than the game.

To that, the NL's Virgil replied, "It was't boring to us. We won."