ANAHEIM — A terrible toss to first base. A fly ball that fell just short. An O-fer by their boppers.
This sure was shaping up to be another lost night for the National League.
Then, one key swing by Brian McCann and a heads-up play by right fielder Marlon Byrd ended an inexplicable All-Star funk.
McCann hit a three-run double in the seventh inning, Byrd alertly threw out David Ortiz to slow a ninth-inning rally and the NL captured its first Midsummer Classic since 1996 with a 3-1 victory Tuesday night.
“Enough was enough,” St. Louis pitcher Adam Wainwright said.
In a year of dominant pitching, young starters David Price and Ubaldo Jimenez set the tone — and got even more help from the tricky shadows. Nearly the entire field at Angel Stadium was bathed in odd patterns of sunlight for a twilight first pitch, creating more awkward swings and misses than usual in baseball’s annual talent show.
Even that bouncing Rally Monkey on the big screen in a red AL jersey couldn’t change things this time. The National League earns home-field advantage in this year’s World Series.
“It’s a big deal. I think home teams play better at home,” said NL manager Charlie Manuel, whose Phillies have reached the past two World Series and won in 2008. “It feels good, it feels real good. I talked to our guys before the game and told them how important home-field advantage was.”
The AL didn’t go down without some ninth-inning drama, started by Ortiz’s leadoff single. But Jonathan Broxton sealed it, helped by Byrd’s defense and shaky baserunning by Big Papi.
Ortiz was on first with one out when John Buck hit a blooper that Byrd scooped up and threw to second for a forceout on the slow-moving Boston DH.
“Wrong place, wrong time — and the wrong guy, too,” Ortiz said. “I saw where he was playing, but I didn’t know that Marlon Byrd’s a guy who has great speed in the outfield. So I saw him coming in and I thought he was going to catch it. I just didn’t want to get caught in a double play, so I got in between, it bounced in front of him and he made a good throw to second base.”
With Alex Rodriguez standing on the steps in the AL dugout, Ian Kinsler flied out and the NL had its win. A-Rod never got in the game.“It felt awesome for us to get the win and break the streak,” Broxton said.
Washington closer Matt Capps got the win with just five pitches, striking out Home Run Derby champion Ortiz. Yankees starter Phil Hughes took the loss after allowing two hits before Matt Thornton yielded McCann’s decisive double.
Until MVP McCann cleared the bases, Robinson Cano’s fifth-inning sacrifice fly stood as the lone run in a game expected to be decided by the loaded pitching staffs on each side.
McCann’s deep fly ball to the warning track in right gave the NL hope in the fifth. When he made good with that bases-loaded double off Thornton, Atlanta’s steady catcher hit second base and pumped his right fist. The three guys who scored headed to the dugout with a renewed swagger.
“You dream of moments like this as a kid. It was amazing,” said McCann, a five-time All-Star relatively unknown before this night.
Cano and his fellow Yankees All-Stars wore black armbands after the death of longtime New York owner George Steinbrenner from a heart attack earlier Tuesday in Tampa, Fla., at age 80. Pictures of The Boss showed on two video screens before a pregame moment of silence, and flags hung at half-staff.
“It’s a difficult time, on a great day for baseball, the All-Star game, something everyone looks to,” Yankees and AL manager Joe Girardi said. “A great man in baseball passed. He’s meant so much to not only this organization, but to the game of baseball, and to all of us personally.”