Mariano named ASG MVP; Junior Circuit wins for first time since 2009
NEW YORK -- Over the past half-century, some of baseball's greatest pitchers have passed through the borough of Queens. Tom Seaver once called Shea Stadium home. Nolan Ryan did, too, sharing a mound with Dwight Gooden, Pedro Martinez and so many others.
So it was only fitting that Tuesday evening, with Seaver in attendance at the borough's first All-Star Game in 49 years, pitching ruled the night. American League pitchers held the National League to three hits in a 3-0 blanking at Citi Field, scoring World Series home-field advantage for the Junior Circuit for the first time since 2009.
"The American League is so talented right now," said Tigers starting pitcher Max Scherzer, who contributed a scoreless first inning. "We respect everything about the National League. We know how talented they are, too. But it just shows how good of pitchers we have."
In perhaps the most appropriate twist of all, Yankees closer Mariano Rivera -- the embodiment of New York pitching excellence -- received a standing ovation from the 45,186 in attendance when he entered in the eighth. Players in both dugouts cheered as Rivera stood alone on the mound, saluting Citi Field's fans before retiring the NL side in order to earn the Ted Williams All-Star Game MVP Award.
"I wanted to come to the game, and since this will be my last one, I wanted to enjoy and be able to pitch for the last time in the All-Star Game," Rivera said, explaining that he pitched the eighth instead of the ninth to ensure an appearance. "The rest was indescribable. I can't describe it."
There were only so many adjectives that could capture the night, from the wild screams of the crowd to the quiet respect of Rivera to the sheer excellence of manager Jim Leyland's American League staff. Looking to halt its streak of three consecutive All-Star losses, the AL successfully turned to the arms that deserted it during last year's 8-0 All-Star drubbing in Kansas City, with 10 pitchers combining for the shutout.
Scherzer and White Sox lefty Chris Sale, who earned the victory, mowed down the first nine NL batters consecutively, before Mariners ace Felix Hernandez finally allowed the NL's first hit with one out in the fourth.
The NL did not record another hit until hometown third baseman David Wright singled three innings later.
"The thought of the All-Star Game is phenomenal as a hitter," Wright said. "But when you actually have to dig in and you get three guys throwing upper-90s with good secondary pitches, it puts you in your place a little bit. That's for sure."
Arizona's Patrick Corbin was the first pitcher to crack for a run, serving up Blue Jays outfielder Jose Bautista's sacrifice fly after Tigers slugger Miguel Cabrera opened the fourth with a double. An inning later, the AL extended its lead when Orioles outfielder Adam Jones doubled, Twins catcher Joe Mauer singled and Orioles shortstop J.J. Hardy grounded into a run-scoring fielder's choice.
American League hitters tacked on yet another run in the eighth, with Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis' RBI double capping a three-hit attack against Braves closer Craig Kimbrel.
"It feels unbelievable," Kipnis said. "It's one thing just to be here, but to be able to contribute to the game as well? What more could you ask for?"
With that, it was time for Rivera, whose entrance in the bottom of the eighth -- accompanied by the strains of his familiar "Enter Sandman" -- surprised so many members of the largest crowd in Citi Field history. Players in both dugouts remained rooted to the spot, allowing Rivera, who plans to retire after this season, to take the field alone.
When he reached the mound, Rivera paused to doff his cap.
"It was kind of a stage, to be honest with you," Leyland said. "I'm not used to that. I'm more of a baseball guy, but I hope I passed the test tonight in New York."
If the atmosphere at Citi Field was any indication, Leyland passed with aplomb, even amongst a crowd radiating Mets loyalty.
For the thousands who showed up to their home ballpark to cheer on Wright and NL starting pitcher Matt Harvey, drenching Citi Field's concourses in orange and blue, the game began in uncharacteristic fashion. After Mike Trout ripped Harvey's first pitch down the right-field line for a double, Harvey plunked Robinson Cano with a 96-mph fastball to the right quad, knocking the Yankees slugger from the game.
"Obviously that was the last thing I wanted to do was go out there and possibly injure somebody," said Harvey, who sought out Cano on the field to apologize. "I was hoping he was going to be able to get out of the way, but unfortunately, he didn't. It definitely was not intentional."
X-rays on Cano's leg were negative, and he said he expected to play Friday.
Harvey rebounded to strike out three over two scoreless innings, eventually giving way to Clayton Kershaw, who needed only 14 pitches for a perfect third.
For the NL, it marked the high point of the night.
That the American League earned home-field advantage with its victory was no small feat. Since MLB began awarding home-field honors to the All-Star Game's winning league 10 years ago, that league's pennant winner has won the World Series seven times. Home teams over that span hold a .600 home winning percentage in World Series play.
For most of them, the road to October began with pitching. And if an American League team wins this year, it will have pitching to thank as well.
"Anytime guys throw up donuts and throw a shutout -- that's not easy to do in a regular-season game," said Rangers closer Joe Nathan, who pitched a scoreless ninth for the save. "And you've got a lineup like that? It's definitely a special thing. We got blanked last year, so to be able to come back and do it to them means a lot."