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Wednesday, July 16, 2008
This All-Star Game almost didn't count

By Jayson Stark
ESPN.com

NEW YORK -- It was an All-Star Game unlike any other.

That, of course, is because the first 78 All-Star Games actually ended.

Ah, but not this one.

It couldn't. It wouldn't. It almost didn't.

Midnight came and went. One o' frigging clock in the morning came and went.

Yet the All-Star madness went on and on, defying the odds, defying the baseball gods, defying every clock on every wall.

"I just know I looked up and it said 1:40 in the morning, and it was the 15th inning," said Twins first baseman Justin Morneau. "I never ever expected to come here and experience that."

"You know," said Mets reliever Billy Wagner, "this was what an All-Star Game was supposed to be -- except it's supposed to go nine innings."

This one, however, missed that standard slightly -- like by six.

Some day, some other bunch of All-Stars will find themselves in some crazed marathon kind of like this one. And when they do, we know that folks everywhere will do what we all did Tuesday night.

They'll thumb through the handy-dandy All-Star record book and look back on this night. And they'll learn that the American League finally beat the National League, 4-3, in 15 innings. And an unprecedented 4 hours and 50 thoroughly insane minutes. On a game-ending sacrifice fly by All-Star Game-winning specialist Michael Young.

But if that's all they find, they'll never know the half of it.

They'll never know that this night began with 49 Hall of Famers parading around the hallowed grass of Yankee Stadium, as a packed house shrieked -- and it ended with position players volunteering to pitch, managers reaching for the Advil bottles, and barely 20,000 comatose fans left in the seats.

They'll never know about all the totally impossible ways these teams found not to score.

They'll never understand how a player as talented as Dan Uggla could conceivably have had The Worst Night in All-Star History, joining the seldom-seen 3-Error, 3-Strikeout Club, with a double-play ball thrown in there as a bonus, just to make his personal torture chamber complete.

longest all-star game
The All-Star Game lasted four hours and 50 minutes to make it the longest Midsummer Classic ever.
And most of all, they'll never be able to comprehend how apoplectic the two managers -- not to mention Bud Selig and his baseball pooh-bahs -- were beginning to get as this interminable game kept rolling. Because it began to dawn on all of them that a night carefully designed to be the ultimate All-Star showcase had a reasonable chance to turn into the ultimate All-Star nightmare:

A tie.

An Uh-Oh-This-Time-It-Didn't-Count-After-All tie that threw both the Midsummer Classic and the entire postseason into chaos.

Yikes.

Asked to describe how stressful those final innings were in that dugout crucible, AL manager Terry Francona responded with a quote never before uttered after any All-Star Game ever.

"I have acne on my forehead."

And how exactly does a guy like that develop acne on his forehead? Well, when you use up every one of your position players and every one of your pitchers, and it's closing in on 2 a.m., and then the commissioner's people send word to your people that this game must be decided somehow, you'd be amazed the places acne can bust out. Pretty much instantly.

"You know, you wait a lot of your life to do something like this," Francona said. "And in the last two hours, it wasn't a whole lot of fun."

Francona and NL manager Clint Hurdle had watched their bullpens grow emptier and emptier -- until they'd reached the point where there were more security officers out there than pitchers. It wasn't a "fun" feeling.

"All my pals were going into the game," said the final occupant of Hurdle's bullpen, Phillies closer Brad Lidge. "I was literally the last man standing. It was the bullpen coach, the catcher and me."

"I didn't know what to think," said the last survivor in Francona's bullpen, Tampa Bay's Scott Kazmir. "I was just playing around and trying to find some way to stay sane."

Yeah, well, join the club.

In the dugout, players began to wonder what might happen next. Would Kazmir have to pitch, say, the next 17 innings? Would either team be allowed to activate one of those leftover Hall of Famers -- say, Whitey Ford or Steve Carlton? Or would it be time to turn this crown jewel of baseball into a total farce, by handing the baseball to somebody who hadn't thrown a pitch since, oh, middle school.

"I spoke to David Wright," said Hurdle. "I told David, `You were the last pick [on the roster]. I went and got you. Have you ever pitched in an All-Star Game?'

"I said, `You wanted to be in this thing. That's all I've read, all I've heard, for the last three days. Well, you won't believe how much you might be in it here real quick.'"
Dioner Navarro and Russell Martin
Russell Martin, right, got a perfect throw from Nate McLouth and tagged out Dioner Navarro trying to score in the 11th inning.

It was at that point that Wright realized what was happening here. If Lidge ran out of steam sometime before dawn, he might really find himself pitching. In an All-Star Game.

In his actual lifetime.

"I told him I was ready," Wright reported. "I was just hoping to get one out, so I'd have an ERA in the All-Star Game."

Thinking back on his pitching career, Wright concluded that the last time he'd pitched was "probably Little League." And was he any good? "Well," he replied, "I'm not a pitcher now. Am I?"

Yep, good point.

But however close we came to witnessing that -- and we're still not certain how close that was -- the good news is, it never happened.

Lidge came marching into this game in the bottom of the 15th because, basically, somebody had to do it. It wasn't quite the script he and Hurdle had drawn up for his grand entrance.

He'd warmed up six different times already, over a period of two hours, because that's how many times the National League had seemed to be on the verge of needing a closer to finish off its first All-Star Game triumph since Bill Clinton's first term. So by the time Lidge finally arrived on the mound, he was about as fresh as a vat of concession-stand mayo.

Asked if he'd ever rolled into any game under those circumstances, Lidge answered honestly: "This was definitely the first time ever in my career."

And it showed. He gave up a Morneau single, a line-drive out, a Dioner Navarro single, an eight-pitch walk to All-Star Game MVP J.D. Drew and that game-winning sac fly to Young (the same man whose two-run ninth-inning triple off Trevor Hoffman decided the 2006 All-Star Game).

So what a perfect ending. The losing pitcher was a man who didn't have a single blown save, or a single loss, in the entire regular season. And the giant clock on the scoreboard read: 1:37 a.m.

It was mind-warping to behold all the records this game had left in its wake: Longest game ever (290 minutes). Most runners left on base ever (28). Most players in a box score ever (63). Most pitchers in an All-Star box score ever (23). Even most strikeouts ever (34) -- and we remind you that once upon a time, in another Bronx era, a Yankee Stadium icon named Joe DiMaggio never struck out more than 39 times in any season.

We informed Morneau afterward that the best way we could sum the game up was that it had just broken pretty much every All-Star record in the whole All-Star record book.

Hey, who knows. Maybe next year we'll win by about 10, and make up for it all.

--Ryan Dempster

"No, we didn't," he replied succinctly. "Definitely not most runs scored."

Yeah, they left that one unscathed, all right. But, on the other hand, they did kind of set a record for most runs not scored. Especially by a National League team that has for sure set another official record -- by failing to win 12 All-Star Games in a row (0-11-1), since their last triumph, way back in 1996.

But if the NL couldn't win this game, it's time to ask: What kind of game can it win?

When your pitchers spin a four-hit shutout for six innings and you take a 2-0 lead into the seventh, don't you have to win?

When your team manages to blow that lead but then you take another lead in the top of the eighth, don't you have to win?

When you become the first team in All-Star Game history to wriggle out of a bases-loaded, no-out jam in extra innings (specifically, the 10th), don't you have to win?

When the Pirates' little-known, but ever-lovable Nate McLouth comes off the bench to become the first outfielder in All-Star history to throw out the winning run at the plate in extra innings (specifically, nailing Navarro in the 11th), don't you have to win?

When you've given up six stolen bases, and your second baseman (Uggla) has rewritten the most-errors-in-All-Star-history record book, and you're still playing even after allowing 12 baserunners in extra innings alone, don't you have to win?

Correct answer: Yes. You do. But they didn't. Somehow.

"Hey, who knows," Cubs pitcher Ryan Dempster suggested hopefully. "Maybe next year we'll win by about 10, and make up for it all."

Right. Maybe. Because we keep hearing that everything evens out in this game. So maybe next year will be the year that finally starts happening.

But if it does, Michael Young has a place he'd rather start that much-needed evening-out process.

"Next year," he laughed, "maybe we can play this thing in about an hour and a half. What do you say?"

Jayson Stark is a senior writer for ESPN.com. His book, "The Stark Truth: The Most Overrated and Underrated Players in Baseball History," was published by Triumph Books and is available in bookstores. Click here to order a copy.