The National League trailed the American League 1-0 heading into the seventh inning Tuesday night in Los Angeles. The Senior Circuit was running out of chances to win its first All-Star Game since 1996. Derek Jeter looked cool and confident on the bench and it seemed destined to end 1-0 in a year dominated by pitching.
And then, the division cursed by mediocrity since 2007 took center stage. The NL Central sparked the comeback to give the league a big 3-1 win.
The NL Central. Home to the Pirates, Reds and Brewers. Home to the Cubs who won the division in 2007 and 2008. And then got swept in the first round of the playoffs both years. And home to the Cardinals. The usually proud franchise that won the World Series in 2006 slipped into oblivion while the Cubs rose and then returned in 2009 for a quick playoff exit thanks to a shocking Matt Holliday blunder.
The Central erased all those bad memories and more Tuesday with a flurry of brilliant performances at the Midsummer Classic. [...]
Scott Rolen played in St. Louis for that championship team. He now plays for the Cincinnati Reds and he’s having a great year for an exciting young Reds team. He’s played on his share of All-Star teams over the years. And he never won. Until last night.
Rolen came to the plate with one out in the seventh and singled. Matt Holliday of the St. Louis Cardinals followed with another single up the middle. Rolen took off on a mad dash for third base complete with a belly flop that Pete Rose would have been proud of.
The tide was changing. There was no question the NL wanted to win.
Rolen’s dive into third proved it. These guys were playing hard this year. National League pride was back.
After a weak pop up by Chris Young for the second out, the Chicago Cubs Marlon Byrd came to bat. Byrd worked White Sox reliever Matt Thorton for an eight-pitch walk. Byrd hung tough against the fireballing lefty, fouling off two-strike pitches.
The bases were now loaded with NL Central All-Stars.
It was all on Braves catcher Brian McCann now. And McCann delivered with a bases-clearing double down the right field line. Marlon Byrd hustled around all the way from first to slide in safely for the third run. He hopped to his feet with a smile and a fist pump.
The National League was in the driver’s seat now and it felt good.
Phillies manager Charlie Manuel called on Adam Wainwright to keep the lead in the bottom half of the seventh. The Cards ace loves the big stage and the adrenaline was pumping after the big inning on offense. Wainwright wasn’t perfect – he got into a jam after Matt Holliday failed to haul in a John Buck liner to the warning track – but he was electric. Waino showed off his hard fastball and cutter in the big inning.
With two outs, the hometown hero Torii Hunter was up with the chance to cut into the lead. Wainwright got his knees to buckle with a curve during the at bat and then finished him off with a tumbling cut fastball for the strikeout.
The threat was over. The NL could breathe easy. The confidence that Derek Jeter exuded going into the seventh was now glowing from every player in the visitor’s dugout.
The final highlight came courtesy Marlon Byrd in the ninth. David Ortiz led things off with a single, adding some pressure and suspense. Byrd swooped in and killed any momentum with a spectacular play on a John Buck flair. Rather than diving for the ball, Byrd caught it on one bounce and in the same motion, turned and fired a strike to second for the force out.
The air was taken out of the AL’s rally and Jonathan Broxton nailed things down from there and the National League could finally celebrate a sweet victory together.
Byrd, Michael Bourn and Chris Young met in centerfield for a small celebration. All three play on losing teams that won’t sniff the playoffs.
But all three were smiling like little kids. Tonight, they played on a winner and you could see the pride in their faces.
The National League is back. Every streak starts somewhere.