Wednesday, July 16, 2008

The 2008 All Star Game: The Good, The Bad & The Uggla

My father and brother had the good fortune of being in New York to attend the All Star Game parade yesterday. The parade ran along Sixth Avenue from Bryant Park to the foot of Central Park. They were standing towards the end of the procession on Sixth and West 58th Street.

Alas I could not be there. My brother, who is not a baseball fan, said I should have been there in his place. Fortunately, Dad got the whole thing on videotape. He's going to edit it and send me a copy. He got the chance to interact with, amongst others, Hall of Famers Ozzie Smith, Ferguson Jenkins, Earl Weaver and Jim Palmer, Toronto Blue Jays pitcher Roy Halladay and Texas Rangers outfielder Josh Hamilton, whose star shone bright in the Home Run Derby on Monday night.

My brother noted while Alex Rodriguez was generally cheered, the women were muttering under their breath. Given his trangressions with Madonna I cannot say that I blame them.

He also noted that anyone associated with the Boston Red Sox was lustily booed. More on this later.

At least I saw the game on TV. And what a game. Another chapter in Yankee Stadium lore was written.

Great pitching dominated the first third of the game as the affair. It remained scoreless until the top of the 5th when Colorado Rockies outfielder Matt Holliday homered off Ervin Santana of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim to give the NL a 1-0 lead. The NL made it 2-0 in the top of the 6th on a sacrifice fly by Houston Astros first baseman Lance Berkman.

The AL tied the game in the top of the 7th when Cincinnati Reds pitcher Edinson Volquez gave up a two run homerun by Boston Red Sox outfielder J.D. Drew. Many Yankees fans could not bring themselves to cheer for a Red Sox player.

Especially Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon. Earlier in the week, Papelbon was alleged to have said that he should close the game rather than New York Yankees closer Mariano Rivera. Of course, Papelbon said no such thing. But since when do the New York papers lets the fact get in the way of the truth? The New York Daily News referred to him as "Papelbum". During the parade, he and his pregnant wife received death threats.

Things did not calm down when Papelbon was brought out in the 8th inning. The Yankees fans chanted "Mariano" and "overrated". Wait until the Yankees come to town later this month. Papelbon ended up surrendering the go ahead run on a sacrifice fly by San Diego Padres first baseman Adrian Gonzalez scoring Houston Astros shortstop Miguel Tejada. In fairness, the run was unearned as Tejada advanced to third after Tampa Bay Rays catcher Dioner Navarro threw the ball into center field as Tejada stole second base which allowed him to advance to third.

Fortunately, Papelbon got let off the hook in the bottom of the 8th as Evan Longoria of the Tampa Bay Rays delivered a pinch hit double off New York Mets lefty Billy Wanger to tie the game at 3-3.

As for Mariano Rivera, Red Sox manager Terry Francona brought him out the top of the 9th with one out. It wasn't a save situation but close to one. Rivera got St. Louis Cardinals outfielder Ryan Ludwick to strike out and Navarro threw out Chicago Cubs third baseman Aramis Ramirez trying to steal second. Meanwhile, Cubs pitcher Ryan Dempster struck out the side in the bottom of the 9th to force extra innings.

In the top of the 10th, Rivera allowed back to back singles to Los Angeles Dodgers catcher Russell Martin and to Tejada. But Rivera then induced Florida Marlins second baseman Dan Uggla to hit into an inning ending double play. Rivera pitched brilliantly.

But poor Dan Uggla.

After hitting into the double play, Uggla committed back to back errors on ground balls by Michael Young of the Texas Rangers and Carlos Quentin of the Chicago White Sox. But NL manager Clint Hurdle played it cool. He had Rockies pitcher Aaron Cook intentionally walk Detroit Tigers infielder Carlos Guillen to load the bases. In fairness to Uggla, he threw out Young at home plate on a ground ball by Cleveland Indians outfielder Grady Sizemore. Cristian Guzman of the Washington Nationals who normally plays shortstop was installed at third base for the first time in his major league career. He played third like, well, an All-Star. Guzman was able to throw out Quentin at home on a sharp ground ball by Longoria. Minnesota Twins first baseman hit a rocket to Tejada to end the inning.

The AL nearly won the game in the bottom of the 11th on a double by Young. But Pittsburgh Pirates center fielder Nate McClouth threw a bullet to home plate to nail the slow footed Navarro at the plate which was brilliantly blocked by Martin.

The NL had the bases loaded in the top of the 12th but Kansas City Royals stopper Joaquim Soria buckled Uggla's knees on a curveball. Francona then removed Soria in favor of Baltimore Orioles closer George Sherrill who struck out Gonzalez on three pitches.

In the bottom of the 12th, Guillen nearly ended the game but just missed hitting a homerun by a foot and had to settle for a double. The AL did not score.

In the bottom of the 13th, Uggla made his third error of the game on a sharply hit ball by Drew. The ball took a bad bounce and Uggla should not have been charged with an error. But when it rains it pours. However, Drew did not score.

In the top of the 14th, McClouth just missed hitting one out but Drew caught the ball on the warning track.

It finally ended in the bottom of the 15th. Philadelphia Phillies closer Brad Lidge didn't have his stuff. He gave up a single to Morneau. Ian Kinsler of the Texas Rangers hit the ball hard but Ludwick made a spetacular catch in left. But then Navarro singled to put runners at first and third. Lidge then walked Drew to load the bases. It was left to Michael Young who had been the hero with a two run triple at the 2006 All Star Game in Pittsburgh. This time Young hit a fly ball to right field. Milwaukee Brewers right fielder Corey Hart (who was not wearing his sunglasses at night) fired the ball to Atlanta Braves catcher Brian McCann but Morneau just beat the throw and the AL won the 79th All Star Game 4-3 in 15 innings.

The game took 4 hours and 50 minutes - the longest in All Star Game history. It wouldn't be Yankee Stadium without a marathon baseball game. This was the second 15 inning game in All Star Game history. The 1967 All Star Game in Anaheim took 15 innings and was won by the NL 2-1 at a time when the NL dominated the All Star Game. Despite their best efforts, the NL hasn't won the All Star Game since 1996 when they beat the AL 6-0 at Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia.

J.D. Drew was awarded the All Star Game MVP just to rub in the noses of the Yankees fans. Drew went 2 for 4 with a homerun, 2 RBI plus a walk and a stolen base.

Dan Uggla, on the other hand, went 0 for 4. He struck out thrice, hit into a double play and committed three errors. It doesn't get much worse than that.

Well, maybe Uggla can make up for it next year. The 2009 All Star Game will be held in St. Louis at the new Busch Stadium.

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