ANAHEIM, Calif. - Someone grab the smelling salts.
For the first time since Bill Clinton was president, the National League finally won the All-Star Game in front of a sellout 45,408 at Angel Stadium, giving the NL home-field advantage in the World Series for the first time since Major League Baseball began dangling that postseason carrot in 2003.
A three-run double by Atlanta Braves catcher Brian McCann in the seventh inning was all the NL needed for a 3-1 win in a game otherwise dominated by pitching, ending the longest dry spell of either league since the game’s inception in 1933.
McCann was named the game’s most valuable player.
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The NL victory also came on a day marked by the death of George Steinbrenner, the longtime owner of the world champion New York Yankees and whose manager, Joe Girardi, led the AL squad Tuesday. American League players had won seven consecutive Midsummer Classics until Tuesday and had not lost one since 1996.
The 2002 game ended in a 7-7 tie after 11 innings when the teams ran out of pitchers, prompting the still-controversial change to award home-field advantage for the World Series to “re-energize the game,” as commissioner Bud Selig said at the time.
This year there was strong pitching aplenty, beginning with David Price of the Tampa Bay Rays and Ubaldo Jimenez of the Colorado Rockies, and the odd shadows and sunlight at Angel Stadium.
“Enough was enough,” St. Louis pitcher Adam Wainwright said.
The AL made a last attempt to tie the game in the ninth inning when Boston Red Sox slugger David Ortiz singled off Los Angeles Dodgers closer Jonathan Broxton.
But after Ortiz teammate Andre Beltre struck out and Ortiz was forced out at second base on a shallow fly to right field by John Buck of the Toronto Blue Jays, Broxton got Ian Kinsler of the Texas Rangers to fly out, end the game and record his first All-Star save.
With Alex Rodriguez standing on the steps in the AL dugout, Ian Kinsler flied out and the NL had its win. A-Rod never got in the game.
“It felt awesome for us to get the win and break the streak,” Broxton said.
Until MVP McCann cleared the bases, Robinson Cano’s fifth-inning sacrifice fly stood as the lone run in a game expected to be decided by the loaded pitching staffs on each side. McCann’s deep fly ball to the warning track in right gave the NL hope in the fifth.
When he made good with that bases-loaded double off former Mariners pitcher Matt Thornton, Atlanta’s steady catcher hit second base and pumped his right fist. The three guys who scored headed to the dugout with a renewed swagger.
Cano and his fellow Yankees All-Stars wore black armbands after the death of Steinbrenner. Pictures of The Boss showed on two video screens before a pregame moment of silence, and flags hung at half-staff.
“It’s a difficult time, on a great day for baseball, the All-Star game, something everyone looks to,” Yankees and AL manager Joe Girardi said. “A great man in baseball passed. He’s meant so much to not only this organization, but to the game of baseball, and to all of us personally.”
It took the NL 14 years to break through after several close calls.
The National League lost the previous two 4-3, including that 15-inning affair in 2008 at Yankee Stadium.
The two before that were also one-run defeats after the tie in 2002.
Phillies chairman Bill Giles had razzed Manuel that his job was on the line if the NL didn’t finally win again.
Turns out this National League lineup didn’t need star Washington rookie Stephen Strasburg — though the phenom pitcher might have generated a nice buzz around the ballpark in those early innings.
Jimenez, Colorado’s 15-game winner and first-time All-Star, came out of the gate with two scoreless innings.
Price — who at 24 was the youngest All-Star starter since 23-year-old Dwight Gooden of the Mets in 1988 — matched that.
Then came Marlins ace Josh Johnson, two more.
It took until the fifth inning for hitters to start making regular contact, the shadows all but gone aside from a couple of small patches in the outfield.
With a first-pitch temperature of 85 degrees, this was a steamy summer night even by Southern California standards.
Neither offense did much to excite a relatively quiet Orange County crowd. There were noticeable empty seats high in the third deck of right field.
Heath Bell’s all-out sprint in from the bullpen to face local Angels favorite Torii Hunter generated some of the only roars all night.
The NL squandered its best early opportunity with runners on the corners and one out in the fifth. Justin Verlander struck out Corey Hart and got McCann on the long fly to right.
Dodgers reliever Hong-Chih Kuo put the AL in good position — men on second and third with no outs — when he stopped Joe Mauer’s comebacker and sailed a routine throw to first high over the head of Adrian Gonzalez.
Evan Longoria scored the go-ahead run, which was unearned.
Manuel was surprised not to see A-Rod, the Yankees star with 597 career homers. Girardi considered using him as a pinch runner.
“If we get the tying run on, Al was going to pinch run and then go in,” Girardi said.
The NL leads the overall All-Star game series, 41-38-2.