SweetSpot: 2012 All-Star Game diary

The drama, the suspense: Will Adam Dunn get into the game or not?

Surprisingly, Tony La Russa turns to Diamondbacks rookie Wade Miley to begin the ninth ... but Jonathan Papelbon and Joel Hanrahan are getting loose. So looks like he's going to give everyone a chance to pitch. He better hope this game doesn't go extra innings.

Joe Mauer leads off with a single. After Elvis Andrus grounds into a force, La Russa sends Terry Collins out to bring in Hanrahan. And Padres fans are livid that Huston Street hasn't appeared! (Do Padres fans actually get livid? Do they care if Street actually appears in the game or not? Questions to ponder in an 8-0 game.)

As somebody named Tim Williams tweets, "Joel Hanrahan coming in to close it out and secure home-field advantage for the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 2012 World Series."

Ahh, too bad, Tim ... Papelbon is coming on for the final out after Hanrahan strikes out Hometown Hero Billy Butler. I dream of the days when All-Star Games only had nine-man pitching staffs. Even if it meant Roger Pavlik had to pitch two innings. (Yes, that actually happened. And, yes, I've managed to reference Roger Pavlik, Ken Harvey, Ricky Bottalico and Bruce Bochte in this All-Star diary.)

And that's it. Matt Wieters flies out to right field. National League 8, American League 0. A win for the Chipper!
Well, yes, Craig Kimbrel is nasty.

Mike Trout had to face R.A. Dickey in his first at-bat and now Aroldis Chapman. Works the count to 3-2 and draws a walk. Maybe that won't impress the casual fan watching Trout for the first time, but to me it says something that a 20-year-old kid has the makeup to look for his pitch, even down 8-0 against a guy throwing 100 mph.

OK, one inning to go. Thanks for sticking with me this far.

Who will close it out for the NL? Let's just hope Tony La Russa doesn't use Jonathan Papelbon, Huston Street and Joel Hanrahan for one out each.
Ryan Cook of the A's enters to face Bryce Harper. Cook certainly wins "least likely All-Star" honors -- even more so than Harper. The rookie reliever appeared in a few games last season with the Diamondbacks before going to Oakland in the Trevor Cahill trade, sort of a throw-in to Jarrod Parker, but a guy not even guaranteed to make the team entering spring training. Cook has some serious heat and has proved difficult to hit, holding batters to a .105 average. Obviously, that will be impossible to keep up.

Anyway, let's hope Cook's career goes better than some other rookie relievers we've seen in All-Star Games. What, you don't remember Bill Dawley or Mark Clear?

(Actually, now that I look it up: Clear made two All-Star appearances and was 71-49 in his career despite a 1.53 WHIP. Dawley had a couple good seasons before petering out or getting injured. My point, I guess: Don't expect Cook to turn into Mariano Rivera.)

Cook gets Harper looking and cruises through a 1-2-3 inning, also getting David Wright looking. Nine outs for the AL to get on the board.

Billy Butler comes up to bat to lead off the bottom of the seventh against Cole Hamels. Royals fans are chanting "Bil-ly! But-ler!" for their lone representative. Hey, it's better than having to chant "Ken! Harvey!"

(Who is Ken Harvey you ask? The Royals' 2004 All-Star representative! Yes, it's been that kind of All-Star Game: We just referenced Ken Harvey.)

Much to the disappointment of the hometown crowd, Butler grounds out. Let's hope he gets at least one more at-bat. If only because that means the AL will have actually scored a run or two.

Anyway, an easy inning for Hamels. I think I just saw Magic Johnson shaking his hand in the NL dugout.
Chipper Jones pinch-hits leading off the sixth, gets a nice ovation from the crowd and grounds a weak ball between first and second that Ian Kinsler gets a bad read on. Infield single, which draws a chuckle from Chipper as he reaches first base.

FOX just showed Chipper shaking hands with teammates from his first All-Star Game in 1996. Nice mullet, Mike Piazza. Chipper started and went 1-for-2 as the NL shut out the AL 6-0. John Smoltz started and pitch two scoreless innings and he was followed by Kevin Brown, Tom Glavine, Ricky Bottalico (!), Pedro Martinez, Steve Trachsel, Todd Worrell, Mark Wohlers and Al Leiter. One of seven shutouts in All-Star history.

Will the AL get on the board this year?

R.A. Dickey in the game for the NL and superduperphenom Mike Trout leads off with a single. And steals second base. I love Mike Trout. Tim McCarver points out that was the first stolen base of the season off Dickey. Phil Niekro once allowed 47 stolen bases in a season. Of course, he did pitch 330 innings that year.

Paul Konerko gets hit by a pitch to bring up Miguel Cabrera. By the way, the Tigers have a superb third-base prospect named Nick Castellanos, who hit .405 in Class A before a recent promotion to Double-A. If he's ready next year, what do the Tigers do with Cabrera? Put him in left field? Remember, Victor Martinez will be back to serve as the DH. Cabrera in left could be an adventure.

Anyway, he grounds into a double play. Not a good game for the Tigers' All-Stars.
Bryce Harper hits for Carlos Beltran. He's wearing gold cleats. Can't wait for some old-school columnist to bash him tomorrow. Baseball has been going downhill ever since they let those A's grow themselves some mustaches back in '72!

Harper walks against Jered Weaver. A 19-year-old just drew a walk in All-Star Game, which is a small notation but awesome. And then he tags up on a fly ball to left field.

Yes, I'll have some more, please.

Oops. David Wright bounces one back to Weaver and Harper gets caught off second base. OK, he's 19 years old.

Now comes the fun part of the game. David Freese in at first base! Jose Altuve at second base! Andrew McCutchen in center field! Don't choke, guys. Freese, by the way, has played 21 innings at first base in his career. With four third basemen, La Russa did this so they can all get in the game. I wonder if he'd done it if the game was close.

After David Ortiz singles off Clayton Kershaw, Mike Napoli sends a routine fly ball to left, which Harper loses in the lights. I sense the momentum turning! Napoli is credited with a hit. The obvious question: Why? Just because it didn't touch his glove? No, don't try to understand official scoring.

Curtis Granderson grounds out on a 3-1 pitch and Asdrubal Cabrera walks to load the bases for Ian Kinsler, but he flies to left field. This time, Harper makes the catch.

Biggest All-Star blowouts:
  • 1946: AL 12, NL 0. Ted Williams goes 4-for-4 with two home runs, a walk and five RBIs.
  • 1983: AL, NL 3. AL wins for the first time since 1971 and just the second time since 1962. Fred Lynn hits a grand slam off Atlee Hammaker, still the only grand slam in All-Star history.
  • 1992: AL 13, NL 6. This was the game I mentioned earlier when Tom Glavine got shelled. AL pounds out 19 hits. Ken Griffey Jr. wins MVP honors by going 3-for-3.
Matt Harrison enters for the AL. No surprise that Ron Washington wants to get his guy an inning. Harrison is 7-1 with a 1.52 ERA over his past nine stars. His most impressive stat: He's allowed just two home runs in 50 innings at home. Texas is a tough place to pitch but as a groundball specialist Harrison has learned to succeed there.

Rafael Furcal triples down the right-field line with two outs and then Matt Holliday hits for Carlos Gonzalez and lines a single into right field for an RBI hit. Melky Cabrera and his orange shoes are up ... and he lines a two-run homer just over the fence in left field! This has officially turned ugly. Like I said, Harrison does a good job of preventing home runs ...

Ryan Braun triples down the right-field line, a replay of Furcal's hit. That's three triples. It's like we're playing in 1914 or something. Maybe Chipper Jones' pregame speech inspired his teammates!

Down 8-0 and now you get to face Stephen Strasburg. I think George Brett made a mistake during his pregame speech to the American League when he turned to Ron Washington and asked him if home field matters in the World Series and Washington just looked confused. That certainly wasn't quite as effective as Jones urging his teammates that, "Sometime, when the team is up against it, when things are going wrong and the breaks are beating the boys -- tell them to go in there with all they've got and win just one for the Chipper."

Braun makes a nice running catch of Prince Fielder's fly ball in the gap. Win it for the Chipper!
I guess this is as good a time as any to mention that the team with home-field advantage has won 21 of the past 26 World Series and the home team has won the ast nine Game 7s. (Last road team to win: the 1979 Pirates, in Baltimore.)

Back to Justin Verlander for a second: He's allowed five or more runs in a game 44 times in 217 career starts and just six times in the past two seasons. I wonder if any of those were games in which he allowed five runs in the first inning? Or any innings for that matter. I'd look it up, but this is a running diary. No time!

David Price cruises through the top of the third and the NL turns the game over to Nationals lefty Gio Gonzalez, who has held opposing hitters to a .192 average. This is a guy the AL could potentially take advantage of if Gonzalez's command is shaky. He has walked seven batters in 11 innings his past two starts before the break. Yes, we're grasping here ...

Mike Napoli strikes out. Curtis Granderson flies out to shallow left. Derek Jeter grounds out to second base. Easy inning for Gonzalez. With the big lead, it's easier for Tony La Russa to know just go the "one inning per pitcher" route rather than worrying about late-inning matchups or extra innings.
Only eight more innings to go! Last time both teams scored at least five runs: 2005. So there's hope this game gets interesting. Especially if Tony La Russa brings in Tim Lincecum.

Just a joke there, Giants fans. Take it easy. Relax. Your guys did well. Be proud.

Nice diving catch by Jose Bautista to end the top of the second as Joe Nathan pitches a 1-2-3 inning.

Matt Cain back out for a second inning of work. That's almost old school! The fear is the American League just packs it in and starts hacking early in the count. Which wouldn't necessarily be a bad approach, I suppose, as Cain is likely to fire a lot of fastballs with a 5-0 lead. Cain retires Prince Fielder on a fly to center, Adrian Beltre on a pop-up to shortstop and David Ortiz on a fly to the left-field corner. I think that half-inning took about 47 seconds. Or about as long it takes Josh Beckett to deliver one pitch.
Admit it: You didn't predict Melky Cabrera would be starting and batting second in the All-Star Game, did you?

And he hits a soft one-out single to left field! That's the last time I make a crack about Melky. Joe Buck just recited a story about Alex Rodriguez calling Cabrera a six-tool player, saying the sixth tool is "he's proven he can play in New York." Is this a bad time to point out that Cabrera never had a season with the Yankees where he was a league-average hitter?

Ryan Braun drills a double over the head of right fielder Jose Bautista to score Cabrera and his orange shoes, bringing up a Justin Verlander-Joey Votto showdown, arguably the game's best pitcher versus the game's best hitter. Votto is working the count even in the All-Star Game. It goes 3-1 and Votto fouls off a 99- and 100-mph fastballs, before Verlander drops in a curve. Votto heads to the dugout. That pitch wasn't fair.

Carlos Beltran works a walk. Verlander is up with his fastballs. They're 100-mph fastballs, but they're still up. If Buster Posey comes through here, American League is in danger of digging a huge hole before it even comes to bat. Reminds of All-Star Games when I was a kid and Jim Palmer would get rocked in the first inning.

Posey walks on four pitches. Bases juiced. Would it be wrong if Tony La Russa pinch-hit David Wright here for Pablo Sandoval? Just kidding, Giants fans!

And ... wow. Sandoval just sat on 1-1 curveball and punched it off the wall near the right-field foul pole for a three-run triple. It's 4-0 and somewhere a 10-year-old in Kansas City is probably crying. Or Ron Washington.

Make it 5-0. Derek Jeter can't make his patented jump throw on Dan Uggla's grounder in the hole and Prince Fielder (shockingly!) can't scoop the one-hopper.

Chris Grandstaff, one of my editors and a Tigers fan, nails it: "This is old Verlander. Thinking he has to throw it 99 on every pitch. Lately, seems like he saves that kind of cheese for the eighth inning and actually tries to pitch early on."

Famous bad All-Star starts:
  • Roger Clemens, 2004: Pitching in front of his then-hometown fans in Houston, Clemens gave up six runs in the first, including home runs to Manny Ramirez and Alfonso Soriano. Danny Kolb pitched the second inning for the NL. Thought you'd like to know that.
  • Tom Glavine, 1992: 1.2 innings, nine hits, five runs (four in the first). Gave up seven consecutive singles in the first and only got of the jam by striking out opposing starter Kevin Brown.
  • Jim Palmer, 1978: 2.2 innings, three hits, three runs, four walks. The AL actually rallied to tie this game before the NL scored four runs off Goose Gossage in the eighth inning.
  • Jim Palmer, 1977: 2+ innings, five hits, five runs, three home runs. I told you about Palmer! Joe Morgan and Greg Luzinski homered in the first and then Steve Garvey homered in the third.
It's easy to be cynical about the All-Star Game. Of course it is.

As a 10-year-old kid in 1979, I sat in the left-field bleachers at the Kingdome in Seattle for the All-Star Game. I still vividly recall the details from that game -- most memorably hometown hero Bruce Bochte delivering an RBI pinch-hit single and receiving a thunderous ovation from 59,000 fans. I remember watching in 1987 when Mariners pitcher Mark Langston got in the game and pitched two perfect innings, leading Vin Scully to exclaim "This kid is something!" I remember talking to a father and son in Denver in 1998. They'd scrimped and saved to buy tickets; this was the biggest outing of the year for them.

I keep this in mind while watching this event every year. Somewhere, a 10-year-old kid will be in the stands in Kansas City, hoping Billy Butler will deliver a big hit. A young fan in Washington will be rooting for Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper to get into the game and help his team win. The game means nothing. It means something. It means everything.

Let's do a running diary and hope we get a fun game. After all ... World Series home-field advantage is on the line!

* * * *

OK, commence with the overanalysis. First off, Ron Washington's lineup is ... umm, interesting. I understand why Derek Jeter is hitting leadoff -- he's an actual leadoff hitter and Washington probably wants to show him respect. But, Jeter is also the weakest hitter in the American League lineup. Since the game matters, Jeter should be hitting ninth. Willie Mays used to bat leadoff for the National League all the time. A smarter lineup would just have Robinson Cano hitting leadoff with everyone else moving up a spot. Instead, you get Jeter hitting first and David Ortiz hitting seventh.

A few things I'd like to see in this game but probably won't:

1. Tony La Russa should try and get two innings apiece from Matt Cain and R.A. Dickey. I don't agree with the "every pitcher gets one inning" philosophy. After all, the game counts! (Last time I'll say that.) But with home-field advantage on the line, you should look to maximize your chances of winning. The more pitchers you use, the more likely one just won't have it. Plus, saving pitchers gives your more flexibility to match up late in the game if you have to and saves guys in case it goes extra innings. For example, the NL would prefer not to use Wade Miley -- who struggled in his last two starts before the break -- with the game on the line.

2. The same holds true for Washington. The back end of his staff is arguably shakier than La Russa's -- Chris Perez, Yu Darvish, Ryan Cook and Matt Harrison -- so he should probably try to get two innings out of David Price or Jered Weaver or Felix Hernandez.

3. Joey Votto should play the whole game. No offense to Bryan LaHair, but you don't want him up in a key situation facing a left-hander. Use him only as a pinch-hitter against a right-handed pitcher if needed.

4. Stop with the position-for-position subs. The trend now is just to have the backup second baseman replace the starting second baseman and take his place in the batting order, regardless of where the lineup is at. For example, if you're putting Andrew McCutchen and Jose Altuve in the game at the same time, McCutchen should go in the lineup spot that's due up earlier. This isn't that hard to figure out.

5. Situational pinch-hitting. Again, this is all about maximizing resources instead of just getting everybody in the game. If Rafael Furcal's second at-bat comes with two runners on base, use Chipper Jones or Matt Holliday or LaHair to hit for him.

That's it for now. Check back after each inning for more random commentary, thoughts and analysis.

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