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The Strike Zone

All-Star Game impressions

Melky Cabrera Melky Cabrera's two-run homer helped earn him the All-Star Game's MVP award. (David E. Klutho/SI)

For all intents and purposes, the 2012 All-Star Game was over by the end of the first half-inning, after the National League pounced upon American League starter Justin Verlander for five runs. Brief at-bats and quick innings soon became the rule of the day, with only three other half-innings going longer than four hitters, and only one other half-inning featuring runs. In the end, the NL prevailed 8-0, their most lopsided victory ever, and the largest margin of victory for either side since 1983, when the AL won 13-3. It was the first time either side had been shut out since the AL was blanked in 1996.

Who impressed: Melky Cabrera.

In his return to the city where he rejuvenated his career, Cabrera bookended the scoring and captured MVP honors. After Carlos Gonzalez struck out to begin the game, Cabrera kicked off the five-run rally with a first-pitch single off Verlander, then came around to score on Ryan Braun's double to rightfield. He grounded out in the second against Joe Nathan, then clubbed a 388-foot two-run homer to leftfield off Matt Harrison in the fourth.

Teammate Pablo Sandoval lay claim to the game's biggest blow. Following walks of Carlos Beltran and Buster Posey to load the bases, he crushed a triple into the rightfield corner, the first bases-loaded triple in All-Star history. That ran the score to 4-0, and it was soon 5-0 when Dan Uggla followed by reaching on an infield single that scored Sandoval.

The rest of the Giants' contingent had a good night as well. Matt Cain justified manager Tony La Russa's choice to start him by working two scoreless innings, allowing only a leadoff single to Derek Jeter, striking out Jose Bautista and blasting through his second inning of work — against Prince Fielder, Adrian Beltre, and David Ortiz — on just six pitches. Posey walked amid the first inning rally, and scored on Sandoval's hit, though he went 0-for-2 before yielding to Carlos Ruiz in the sixth inning. In addition to Cain, he caught scoreless frames from Gio Gonzalez, Stephen Strasburg and Clayton Kershaw.

Who didn't impress: Justin Verlander.

In the history of the All-Star Game, only three starting pitchers had allowed as many as five runs prior to Tuesday night: Jim Palmer in 1977, Tom Glavine in 1992 and then record-holder Roger Clemens, who allowed six runs in 2004. Verlander joined that esteemed company via a rough first inning that started with a strikeout but went downhill from there. After the Braun double, he struck out Joey Votto looking at a nasty 81 mph curve, and he was one pitch away from limiting the damage when he went to a full count on Carlos Beltran. Rearing back for something extra, he threw a fastball clocked at 101 mph according to MLB Gameday, but it was high enough for Beltran to lay off. Abandoning any notion of subtlety, Verlander then walked Posey on four heaters of 100, 100, 99, and 97 mph to load the bases, but as soon as he went back to his curveball, Sandoval smashed it for a triple. The final hit he allowed, Uggla's infield single, came on a high 98 mph fastball that would have been a ball. It was an ugly inning for a man whose first All-Star start was expected to go much better.

The AL starting lineup looked lethargic defensively behind Verlander, who after all surrendered four hits on five balls in play, and offensively, they went a combined 4-for-17 (all singles) with one walk and three strikeouts before exiting.

Keep trying, kid: Bryce Harper, the youngest position player in All-Star history had a debut that might as well have been scored by Ennio Morricone, for it featured the good, the bad and the ugly. Harper entered the game as a pinch-hitter for Beltran in the top of the fifth inning and immediately called attention to himself with a garish pair of gold-and-red cleats — serious clown shoes, bro. He didn't look silly at all after working a walk off Jered Weaver, making him the youngest player ever to reach base in an All-Star Game, and despite the 8-0 imbalance, showed a bit of hustle by alertly tagging up and running to second base on Posey's fly ball to leftfield.

Things went downhill from there, however. On David Wright's grounder to Weaver, Harper got happy feet, was caught off second base, and was quickly tagged out in a rundown. In the bottom of the inning, he lost track of Mike Napoli's fly ball, perhaps in the lights; the ball bounced several feet behind him, but Napoli was held to a single because Ortiz, on first base, had to wait out the fly ball. When Harper came to bat again in the seventh inning against Ryan Cook, he struck out looking.

Fellow rookie Mike Trout's ledger was cleaner than Harper's. The 20-year-old entered the game in the top of the sixth inning, and almost immediately bobbled Andrew McCutchen's single before recovering in time to prevent McCutchen or Chipper Jones (who had been on first) from taking an extra base. Trout led off the bottom of the sixth against R.A. Dickey and singled to centerfield on the second knuckler he saw. He then stole second base, but he was stranded there. In his other plate appearance, he drew a walk against Cole Hamels

A touch of class: After the Robinson Cano story refused to die of natural causes — prior to the game, another plane flew by a banner, this time spelling out "Can-o-for-10," and the AL's starting second baseman received a very mixed reception during introductions — the Kansas City crowd redeemed itself somewhat with the reception it gave Chipper Jones, who was playing in the eighth and final All-Star game of his career, but who had never played in Kauffman Stadium before — the only operational major league park he had never visited. When he came to bat in the sixth inning, Jones received a lengthy standing ovation from the fans, and on the first pitch from Chris Sale, he promptly scraped a single through the right side, accompanied by a sheepish grin. They can't all be 400-footers.

Advantage, Senior Circuit: The NL has now won three straight All-Star Games, the first time it has done so since 1994-1996. The stretch ends what had been a 3-18-1 skid against the AL since 1987. In all, the NL holds a 43-38-2 lead.

In the wake of the infamous 2002 tie, the idea of attaching home field advantage in the World Series to the outcome of the game may not have been a good one, but it's been an important one. In the nine years since the rule went into effect, the team with home field advantage has won six times, including last year, the first time in that span that the series went seven games.

That's admittedly a small sample size, but going back to 1985, the team with home field advantage has won 21 out of 26 World Series, with the 1992 Blue Jays, 1999 Yankees, 2003 Marlins, 2006 Cardinals and 2008 Phillies the only teams to win without it. Eight times during that span — 1985, 1986, 1987, 1991, 1997, 2001, 2002 and 2011 — the series went seven games, and all eight times, the home team won. Not since the 1979 Pirates clinched in Baltimore has a visiting team won Game 7 on the road. So whoever goes on to represent the NL this year — and who would have thought at this juncture that the Nationals, Pirates, Dodgers, Reds and Braves would be the teams in that position come the All-Star break — will have a decided leg up in the Fall Classic.

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