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AL Triples Its Pleasure in 9th

Young's two-out, two-run hit off Hoffman continues the league's dominance and gives it the home-field edge in the World Series again.

July 12, 2006|Tim Brown | Times Staff Writer

PITTSBURGH — The baseball season, the era even, leans to the American League, where even the cursed within it are collecting World Series trophies.

So it was with two out in the top of the ninth inning of the 77th All-Star game on Tuesday night, the bases empty, a closer with 460 career saves looking for one more good pitch, the National League sure it was that close to recovery.

And it was, again, where the Nationals' fortunes went bad.

Three consecutive hits by the Americans, the last a two-run triple by Michael Young against Trevor Hoffman, gave them a 3-2 victory at PNC Park, extending their mid-summer's authority to a full decade.

Their previous run had come seven innings before, on Vladimir Guerrero's opposite-field home run off Nationals starter Brad Penny, on a chin-high fastball Guerrero rode into the right-field seats.

Mariano Rivera pitched the final three outs, finishing what Hoffman failed to a half-inning earlier.

The American League is 9-0-1 since losing in Philadelphia in 1996. The tie four years ago in Milwaukee became the inspiration for granting World Series home-field advantage to the All-Star winner, and the American League has won two of the three series since, sweeping them both.

In fact, the Americans, boasting the game's top four payrolls, four 50-game winners and all the momentum that it brings, were somewhat astounded that defeat was so near.

Said Ozzie Guillen, the White Sox manager serving as AL manager: "When we got to the ninth, and I see my first two guys ... went out real quick, I was turning to my coach and saying, 'Why me? Why do I have to lose this game?'"

As the words left his mouth, Paul Konerko singled to right field. Troy Glaus lined a double to left field, the ball bouncing into the stands, the ground rule holding pinch-runner Jose Lopez at third base. The Americans still trailed, 2-1.

Then, Young, a three-time All-Star and last season's AL batting champion for the Texas Rangers, fell behind to Hoffman, 0 and 2. At 38, Hoffman has little fastball left, but possesses a devious changeup that has carried him to 24 saves this season, and into second place on the all-times saves list behind Lee Smith.

Young, however, had no thoughts either way, fastball or changeup.

"I'm just looking for contact there," he said. "I'm thinking about reacting, using my hands, putting something in play. Anything works right there."

The fastball arrived low, and the right-handed hitter lashed it into right-center field, and the pro-National League crowd groaned as Lopez and Glaus scored the tying and go-ahead runs.

"Two quick outs," said NL Manager Phil Garner, whose Houston Astros lost to Guillen's White Sox in four games last October. "I couldn't have scripted it any better. We had the lead. You're going to turn it over to Trevor Hoffman, who has been golden over the years."

In fact, Garner told Hoffman just that afterward in his office, while the two shook hands and said something along the lines of "We'll get 'em next time."

"It was an honor for me," Garner said to Hoffman.

As it was, both managers got to give the ball to their closers with a lead, and only Rivera was golden.

Hoffman regretted the fastball, saying it "should have been a changeup."

"I caught a little more of the plate than I wanted," he said. "That's why Mariano is so good; he went out and got it done."

Pirates favorite Freddy Sanchez, who'd delighted the crowd with two defensive plays earlier, grounded out against Rivera. Carlos Beltran reached on an error. Ryan Howard, Monday night's home run derby winner, grounded to second base. And Carlos Lee popped to second base.

"I've seen a lot of baseball," Rivera said. "Things like that happen a lot."

He smiled and raised his eyebrows, and added, "It just happened like that. So quick."

The lowest-scoring game since the leagues combined for five runs in 2001 -- four of them by the Americans, of course -- began with Penny. He struck out the side in the first inning, Ichiro Suzuki, Derek Jeter and David Ortiz in a row, when his fastball touched 99 mph.

Penny left the ballpark without talking to print reporters, but those who faced him said the radar readings appeared accurate. Guerrero's home run came on a fastball that showed 98.

"That was legit," said Jeter, who saw seven pitches from Penny, one of them at 99 and three at 98. "Actually, I think the gun was a little slow."



L.A. Stars

How the Dodgers and Angels did Tuesday night in the All-Star game:


* Hit a solo homer to right field in the second inning and fouled out to third base in the fifth.


* Struck out the side (Suzuki, Jeter, Ortiz) in the first inning. Gave up Guerrero's homer in the second.


* Did not play.




* American League: Brad Penny pitching. Ichiro Suzuki struck out swinging. Derek Jeter struck out swinging. David Ortiz struck out looking.

No runs, no hits, no errors, none left.

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