The fourth and final All-Star Game in Yankee Stadium started out as something of a dud, but it sure did get interesting before the AL came away its eleventh-straight win after 15 innings and nearly five hours of baseball.
Scoreless after four innings, the early part of the game was notable only for its lack of offense. Derek Jeter singled and stole second in his first at-bat, but was stranded there, ground into a double play in his second trip, and ground out again to kill a fifth-inning rally in his final at-bat. Alex Rodriguez fouled out and struck out in his two at-bats. The AL had five runners in the first four frames, but one was erased by Jeter's double play, and Milton Bradley was picked off first base after reaching on a Hanley Ramirez throwing error in the fourth. The NL had just three baserunners in the first four frames. Of those three, Albert Pujols was nailed by a laser throw from Ichiro Suzuki while trying to stretch a single into the right field corner into a double. That play was the highlight of the early part of the game, though everyone had a good laugh when Carlos Zambrano's first pitch to Manny Ramirez in the bottom of the fourth was a curveball that broke over and behind Ramirez's head.
The NL finally broke the dam when Matt Holliday led off the fifth with an opposite-field solo homer off Ervin Santana that was also the first extra-base hit of the game. The senior circuit added another run against Justin Duchscherer the following inning when Hanely Ramirez and Chase Utley singled to put runners on the corners with no outs, and Lance Berkman plated Ramirez with a sac fly to center.
The game was still 2-0 with two outs in the bottom of the seventh when J.D. Drew tied things up with a two-run homer that plated Justin Morneau (who had doubled to lead off the inning), making Drew the first Boston player to get a genuine cheer from a Yankee Stadium crowd in my memory.
Jonathan Papelbon received a more typical reception in the top of the eighth as chants of "Mariano" and "overrated" rained down on the Red Sox's closer in reaction to his suggestion that he be allowed to close the game for the AL over the hometeam's legend Mariano Rivera. To his credit, Boston manager Terry Francona treated the three Yankee All-Stars with the utmost respect, sending in defensive replacements for both Rodriguez and Jeter in the middle of innings so that the hometown players could receive ovations on their way out of the game, and using Papelbon in the eighth in an ultimately fruitless attempt to save Rivera to close out the game.
Miguel Tejada's leadoff single off Papelbon didn't help the Boston closer's standing with the crowd, even though he responded by striking out Dan Uggla on four pitches. On Papelbon's first pitch to Adrian Gonzalez, Tejada stole second, and when catcher Dioner Navarro's throw sailed to the third base side of the bag and into center field, Tejada moved to third with one out. Gonzalez then lifted a sac fly to plate Tejada on the next pitch and give the NL a 3-2 lead.
Giants closer Brian Wilson got the first two outs of the eighth for the NL squad, but with lefty Grady Sizemore coming up, manager Clint Hurdle called on the Mets' lefty closer Billy Wagner. Sizemore singled off Wagner and stole second base. Righty hitting rookie Evan Longoria then golfed a Wagner pitch off his shoetops and one-hopped it over the left field wall for a game-tying ground-rule double.
It was here, with the game tied 3-3 and most of the two rosters having been used, that things got really interesting. To set the scene, here were the lineups as the game entered the ninth inning:
L - J.D. Drew (RF)
R - Michael Young (SS)
R - Carlos Quentin (LF)
S - Carlos Guillen (3B)
L - Grady Sizemore (CF)
R - Evan Longoria (DH)
L - Justin Morneau (1B)
R - Ian Kinsler (2B)
S - Dioner Navarro (C)
R - Miguel Tejada (SS)
R - Dan Uggla (2B)
L - Adrian Gonzalez (1B)
R - David Wright (DH)
R - Aramis Ramirez (3B)
R - Corey Hart (RF)
R - Ryan Ludwick (LF)
L - Nate McLouth (CF)
R - Russell Martin (C)
Facing Francisco Rodriguez, Aramis Ramirez led off the top of the ninth with a walk and was pinch-run for by Cristian Guzman, but Corey Hart (greeted by his namesake's "Sunglasses At Night" on the Yankee Stadium PA) flew out to right for the first out without advancing Guzman. With the possibility of a save situation having evaporated and realizing this could be his last chance to get Rivera into the game should the AL rally in the bottom of the inning, Francona called on Rivera, who stranded Guzman by teaming with Navarro on a strike-em-out/throw-em-out double play.
Having needed just six pitches in the ninth, Rivera was sent back out to start the tenth after the ALers went down in order against Ryan Dempster in the bottom of the ninth (by the way, how long has Dempster been doing that weird wrist flick with his glove in the middle of his delivery? I've never seen that before). Rivera struck out Nate McLouth to start the tenth, but got into a jam when Russell Martin won an eight-pitch battle by going with a cutter away and singling into right field. A successful hit-and-run with Tejada at the plate put runners on the corners with one out, but Rivera got Dan Uggla to hit into a 4-6-3 double play neatly turned by the Rangers' DP combo of Ian Kinsler, who charged the ball in front of the bag and shoveled it backward, and Michael Young, who turned the pivot. Uggla was out by no more than a foot, the first sign that this game didn't want to end.
Uggla's misfortune continued in the bottom of the inning when, with Rockies groundballer Aaron Cook on the mound, he first booted a hopper by Young for one error, then let a hard grounder by Carlos Quentin shoot under his glove for another to put runners on the corners with none out. Hurdle then had Cook walk Carlos Guillen to load the bases and set up the force at home. Obligingly, Cook responded by getting shallow ground balls from Grady Sizemore and Evan Longoria that were turned into force outs at home by Uggla and Guzman, the latter of whom had stayed in the game to play third base for the first time in his professional career.
With the bases still loaded and two out, Cook got another soft grounder from Justin Morneau which Miguel Tejada charged and made a great, diving throw to first to push the game into the eleventh inning.
After the NL proved unable to advance a leadoff single by Adrian Gonzalez, Cook and the AL returned to their shenanigans. Ian Kinsler led off the bottom of the 11th with a single, but was caught stealing second by Russell Martin on a pitch-out, even though replays showed that Miguel Tejada's swipe tag missed him entirely. Dionner Navarro then walked and moved to second on a single by J.D. Drew. Michael Young, who had a game-winning triple in the 2006 All-Star Game, followed with a single to center that looked like another game-winner, but a perfect throw from Nate McLouth and a great catch and tag from Martin nailed Navarro at the plate, despite replays that again suggested he was safe. Navarro was running only because Terry Francona had been more aggressive about getting all of his players in the game than his NL counterpart and had no one left on his bench. Drew and Young moved up to second and third on the throw, but Cook got another groundout to strand them both.
At this point there had been a runner on third with less than two outs in three of the previous four half innings, but none had scored, and the AL had made three of its last six outs at home plate. The game remained tied at 3-3.
Moving to the 12th, Ryan Ludwick led off with a walk off Joaquim Soria and both Morneau and Kinsler delayed just enough on Nate McLouth's subsequent sacrifice bunt attempt that the speedy McLouth was able to reach safely ahead of Morneau's throw to the covering Kinsler. Martin then sacrificed the two runners to second and third, and Francona countered by having Soria intentionally walk Tejada to set up the force at all bases. Soria then struck out Uggla on three pitches and yielded to the Orioles' lefty closer George Sherrill, who came on to strike out lefty Adrian Gonzalez on another three pitches.
On to the bottom of the 12th, the game looked over when Carlos Guillen shot Cook's first pitch to deep left field, but the ball hit high up on the left-field wall for a double rather than the walk-off homer most expected at the crack of the bat. Grady Sizemore moved Guillen to third on a groundout to again put a runner at third with less than two outs, but Evan Longoria struck out and, after Cook intentionally walked lefty Justin Morneau, the Rocky righty got the righty Kinsler to ground out to strand Guillen. At this point it seemed clear that the old Stadium was clinging to the game for as long as it could.
David Wright led off the 13th with a single, but Guzman's bunt went right back to Sherrill for a 1-4 fielder's choice and Guzman was stranded at first. In the bottom of the frame, J.D. Drew reached on Uggla's third error of the game, but was stranded when Carlos Marmol struck out Young and Quentin. Things quited down from there as Sherrill and Brandon Webb set the sides down in order in the 14th and Scott Kazmir, the last man out of the AL bullpen, pitched around a two-out walk to Wright in the top of the 15th.
That brought it down to Brad Lidge, the last man out of the NL bullpen, in the bottom of the 15th. With Brian McCann, the last man off the NL bench, catching, Lidge gave up a leadoff single to Justin Morneau. Ian Kinsler then hit a liner right at Ludwick in left field to keep Morneau on first. Navarro followed with a single, and J.D. Drew walked to load the bases with one out, once again putting a runner at third with less than two outs. This time, finally, the AL came through, with Michael Young again striking the decisive blow, this one a sac fly to right fielder Corey Hart, who very nearly threw Morneau out at home.
The 4-3 win was the AL's eleventh straight (not counting the 2002 tie), but the junior circuit's first extra-inning win in the game's history. The game tied the 1967 mid-summer classic as the longest by innings and stands alone as the longest by time of game by more than an hour at four hours and 50 minutes (the 1967 game was played in three hours, 41 minutes).
The old Stadium held on as long as it could, but eventually we all give way to the passage of time.