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Tuesday, July 10, 2012
Rangers, AL helpless after slow start

By Richard Durrett
ESPNDallas.com

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The Texas Rangers had hoped that with eight All-Stars on the AL squad -- and all of them understanding fully how important home-field advantage is in the World Series -- they could have a positive impact in Tuesday's All-Star Game.

It didn't work out that way.

Matt Harrison
Matt Harrison retired the first two batters he faced before serving up a two-run homer to All-Star MVP Melky Cabrera.

Most of the Rangers weren't able to do much to help the American League, but even before any of them could hit or pitch in the game, the National League had built a sizeable lead.

Justin Verlander came out by lighting up the radar gun, but couldn't darken the lower part of the strike zone. He gave up five runs on four hits in the first inning as his fastball, which hit 100 mph on the Kauffman Stadium radar gun at one point, was up too high.

Verlander said he understood that the game meant something.

"But we're here for the fans," Verlander said. "The fans don't want to see me throw 90 on the corners."

Instead, they got to see 100 and a bunch of National League hits. Verlander admitted that by throwing that hard that soon, he hadn't had a chance to settle into his delivery rhythm. In other words: He sacrificed some command for velocity.

That's fine in an exhibition game, but not so great in a game that decides home-field advantage in the World Series. Or one that tries to be both, as it seems these All-Star Games do.

Verlander said he wasn't trying to give up runs, obviously. But he also didn't approach the game like a normal start, either. And he didn't look like Cy Young or MVP Justin Verlander in the process.

"I just expected him to be Verlander -- go out and get outs like he always does," AL manager Ron Washington said. "It just didn't work out."

Nathan This game is important. We would have liked to have won it. But it doesn't mean the National League is going to win the World Series just because they won this game.

-- Rangers closer Joe Nathan

The Rangers' players, like the rest of the AL roster, couldn't do much once they got behind. Matt Harrison allowed three runs on four hits -- all with two outs -- in the fourth to effectively put the AL too far behind to rally. Harrison retired the first two batters he faced on four pitches, but after Rafael Furcal tripled, NL manager Tony LaRussa went to his bench and a familiar face in St. Louis Cardinal Matt Holliday. The right-handed hitter belted an opposite-field single to score Furcal. Then Melky Cabrera hit a home run into the AL bullpen in left field to score two more runs.

"I had fun," Harrison said. "I wanted to pitch better, but it was my first All-Star Game and I was taking it all in. The pitch I threw to Furcal was a good one and he got it. But the one to Cabrera for the homer was right down the middle."

That homer helped Cabrera claim MVP honors for the game.

The two teams that beat the Rangers in the past two World Series -- both of which started on the road for Texas -- helped make sure that if the Rangers return to the Fall Classic, they'll be playing Games 1 and 2 on the road yet again. Besides Cabrera and Holliday, Giants third baseman Pablo Sandoval hit a bases-clearing triple in the first to extend the NL lead to 4-0.

The Rangers' hitters had one hit among them, and it was a single by Mike Napoli that Bryce Harper lost in the lights. Josh Hamilton was 0-for-2, including a ground ball double play (and a hard one to short, too). Adrian Beltre had a pop-up and a ground out. Ian Kinsler came in for a pinch-hit at-bat in the bottom of the fifth with the bases loaded and a chance to get the zero out of the AL's column. He hung in against Highland Park product Clayton Kershaw, fighting to get the count to 3-2 after falling behind 0-2, but ended up flying out to left field.

"When you foul off a fastball on 3-2, you need to be looking for another pitch," Kinsler said. "But he threw me another fastball, I just wasn't able to get enough on it."

Kinsler came up again in the eighth against Braves closer Craig Kimbrel and struck out.

The biggest bright spot on the night for Texas was Joe Nathan, who came into the game earlier than expected. Verlander needed 35 pitches to get through the first and did not go out for the second inning. Nathan got the call and was efficient, throwing eight pitches (seven of the strikes) to retire his three batters in order.

Elvis Andrus also got in the game, playing third base for the first time in his career. Asdrubal Cabrera told Andrus that he would play third if Andrus wanted to play short.

"But what better place to play third base for the first time than at the All-Star Game," Andrus said.

Naturally, he got a chance right away from Andrew McCutchen and made a throw across the diamond for the out.

"I'm going to get the video and send it to Adrian so that he can see how it's done," Andrus said.

When the game was over, several Rangers made it a point not to let the outcome -- and the knowledge that if they make the World Series they again won't get home-field advantage -- take away from the experience.

"I haven't been to a World Series yet, but if our team is fortunate enough to get to that position, obviously we'd rather have home-field advantage, but that's not what is going to be what makes or breaks us going out there," Nathan said. "It's going to be about competing. No matter where you are, you're trying to win a game.

"This game is important. We would have liked to have won it. But it doesn't mean the National League is going to win the World Series just because they won this game. It just means they get to play at home one more time than we do."

That seemed to matter last year. The Rangers hope it doesn't matter this year.