After getting a pre-game visit from Barack Obama in their clubhouse, the American League All-Star team went out and extended its winning streak over the National League to seven, and its unbeaten streak to 13 with a 4-3 win in St. Louis on Tuesday night.
Obama, who has correctly picked the Steelers to win the Super Bowl and North Carolina to win the NCAA men's basketball championship this season, threw out the first pitch wearing a jacket of the AL's Chicago White Sox, his favorite team, during a brief appearance before a sold out crowd of 46,760. It set the tone for a rapidly played game that clocked in at just 2:31 (the fastest All-Star Game in 21 years), was dominated by pitching and defense and, for the first time since 1999, did not include at least one home run.
The first five American League relief pitchers -- Mark Buehrle, Zack Greinke, Edwin Jackson, Felix Hernandez and Jonathan Papelbon -- each pitched perfect 1-2-3 innings. The streak nearly ended when Colorado's Brad Hawpe led off the seventh with a long drive to deep left-center against Papelbon. But Carl Crawford raced back to the wall, timed his jump and reached over the fence to take a home run away from Hawpe and preserve a 3-3 tie.
"That's got to be the top play I've ever made," said Crawford, who was named the game's Most Valuable Player. "I don't think I've ever robbed a home run before. I picked a good time to do it tonight."
In the top of the eighth, two first-time All-Stars combined to produce the game-winning run. Curtis Granderson hit a one-out triple to left, and after an intentional walk to Victor Martinez, Baltimore's Adam Jones scored Granderson with a sacrifice fly.
"I congratulate him on the fact that he went for three bases," said AL manager Joe Maddon of Granderson's decision to try for a triple. "A lot of times, a ball will be hit like that and a hitter automatically assumes a double. [He] did he not assume a double, he assumed three right there which puts an entirely different attitude on the other side in regard to what they can do. That was huge for me that he even thought of it."
National League leftfielder Justin Upton had a hard time playing the carom, which helped Granderson reach third, but said, "I thought I had a bead on it but it started carrying. I thought the best play was to try and catch it because it would have been three anyway."
The National League finally got some base runners in the eighth, when with two out, Joe Nathan walked Adrian Gonzalez and gave up a single to Orlando Hudson. "I didn't know [about the streak]," said Nathan, who joked. "If I had, I would've tried harder to get Gonzalez out."
Nathan recovered to strike out pinch-hitter and St. Louis native Ryan Howard on a slider to strand both runners. "I looked up at my family in the stands and kind of gave a sigh of relief," said Nathan.
Mariano Rivera pitched a perfect ninth for his fifth All-Star Game save.
While the bullpens excelled, the starting pitchers struggled. The AL jumped to a 2-0 lead in the first inning against Tim Lincecum in which the first six batters reached base. Ichiro Suzuki singled, Derek Jeter reached on a hit-by-pitch and after a fielder's choice by Joe Mauer, an error by crowd favorite Albert Pujols on Mark Teixeira's grounder scored Jeter to give the AL a 1-0 edge. Two batters later, Mauer scored on a fielder's choice by Josh Hamilton.
The National League's only offense came in the second against AL starter Roy Halladay. With two on and two out, Yadier Molina -- another Cardinal -- singled up the middle to score David Wright, and Shane Victorino followed when Hamilton's throw got past Michael Young at third base. Prince Fielder then delivered an RBI ground-rule double to give the NL its only lead of the game at 3-2.
But after those four consecutive hits, the NL bats went silent. Hudson's single in the eighth was their only other hit of the game, and 22 of their last 24 batters were retired. "It was definitely a pitcher's game, and they have some horses and the back end of the bullpen is good," said NL manager Charlie Manuel. "They executed when they had to and they made the big play when they got a hit. That's all you can say."
The AL tied the game in the fifth on a double by Mauer. They might have gone ahead if not for a pair of impressive diving plays at first by Pujols, who atoned for his earlier error. First he robbed Derek Jeter and two batters later, Teixeira, ending the inning and stranding Mauer on the bases.
"That was the best thing I did this week," said Pujols, who had a difficult time living up to his town's enormous expectations. The Game's leading vote-getter was cheered loudly every time his name was announced, but after falling short in the Home Run Derby on Monday, his difficulties at the plate extended to Tuesday, when he went 0-for-3 and failed to hit the ball out of the infield.
"You have the Home Run Derby and also have to catch a pitch from the U.S. President, and, oh, yeah, you have a game to play, as well. I won't use that word, stress. I wish it can be like this for the rest of my career, this stressful. I enjoy it."
Pujols caught the first pitch from Obama, who became the first sitting President to attend an All-Star Game in 17 years, at the end of a long series of pre-game ceremonies. In addition to the Budweiser Clydesdales, Cardinals Hall of Famers Bob Gibson, Lou Brock, Red Schoendienst, Bruce Sutter, Ozzie Smith and Stan Musial, who was driven around the field in a golf cart. MLB also had a video tribute from five Presidents -- Obama, George W. Bush, Bill Cinton, George H.W. Bush and Jimmy Carter -- paying tribute to their All-Stars among us, 30 people who were honored for their service and charitable works.
The unique opening soon gave way to the same old story for the NL. With the victory, the American League claimed home field advantage in the World Series for the seventh straight time since it has been at stake in the All-Star Game.
"Any team would want home field advantage," said Chase Utley of the Phillies, who won last year's World Series despite having to play the first two games at Tampa Bay. "Obviously, we're not happy with ourselves, but there's nothing really to say. Everyone's trying their hardest."
The American League has now closed its deficit against the NL to 40-38-2, and its seven-game winning streak is its longest ever. The NL won eight straight from 1963-1970 and 11 in a row from 1972-1982. But it hasn't won one since 1996, and when Papelbon, a four-time All-Star, was asked afterward if he could even remember the last time the National League was victorious in the Midsummer Classic, he thought for a moment and said, "Um...no, I don't. I hope I don't have to witness that for awhile."