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The 2008 All-Star Game: This Time It Didn’t Suck

I’m not the world’s biggest fan of the All-Star Game. Since attending the infamous tie ballgame in Milwaukee in 2002, my allegiance to the so-called Midsummer Classic has been in a downward spiral:

Skipped the 2003 game in favor of a Staten Island Yankees-Brooklyn Cyclones game, where I saw an 18-year-old center fielder named Melky Cabrera go 5-for-5.

• Trekked to East Brunswick, New Jersey to watch the 2004 game chez Steven Goldman, with Will Carroll and Cliff Corcoran also in tow. Whatever suspense the game had was bulldozed by Roger Clemens’ launchpad explosion.

• Missed most of the 2005 game to attend Star Wars Episode III: Just Give Us Your Money, but not enough to avoid blowing a gasket over Fox Sports’ emphasis of everything but the game via some over-the-top corporate advertising disingenuousness. This was the nadir not only of the All-Star Game, but of human civilization in the 21st century, at least until I watched The Squid and the Whale.

• Boycotted the 2006 game over the previous year’s debacle. The 2007 one too. “[O]nce I stuffed my mouth full of aluminum foil and found an old hemostat to clamp on the webbing between my finger and my thumb, I was able to recreate the aggravation of watching Tim McCarver, Joe Buck, Scooter and the Foxies at the Taco Bell Midsummer Poxcam Classic without even turning on the television,” I wrote, which I still think is pretty funny.

After a bit of soul-searching (“Hmmmm… where did I put that damn Otis Redding CD?”), I lifted the embargo for last night’s affair, primarily because it was at Yankee Stadium, my home field, and secondarily because it meant participating in a roundtable with fellow Baseball Prospectus colleagues Carroll, Goldman, Kevin Goldstein, Derek Jacques, Rany Jazayerli, John Perroto, Joe Sheehan et al. And wouldn’t you know it, a compelling ballgame broke out, a 15-inning, 4:50 epic won by the AL, 4-3.

Luckily, I didn’t have to sit through the entire contest in real time. I cooked dinner for my wife and had the rather cool opening festivities on in the background, then whisked through the first four-and-a-half innings of the actual game via TiVo, which spared me about an hour of tsuris. And then I was pleasantly surprised. I may be off base here given how much I fast-forwarded through, but while I still revile Joe Buck (“I’d feed Buck to the hogs before McCarver, but that’s just me. At least we know Tim Mc likes baseball and has some sense of history. Buck… probably makes his old man spin in his grave,” I wrote), the Fox presentation was comparatively understated relative to the debacles that drove me from the spectacle a few years back. No clanking graphics, no idiotic Scooter (if there’s any justice his creators are in Guantanamo Bay being waterboarded), just baseball and lots of it.

Again, it’s probably the TiVo and my attention to the roundtable talking, but the game itself seemed to be passing by with an almost surreal rapidity and lack of action — save perhaps for Ichiro Suzuki’s perfect throw to nail Albert Pujols trying to stretch a single into a double in the fourth — until J.D. Drew bopped a game-tying two-run homer in the bottom of the seventh. From there it was genuinely compelling theater, with Jonathan Papelbon’s Bronx Cheer-fueled meltdown (shut up and go back to Boston, schmuck), Billy Wagner’s choke (shut up and go back to Queens, schmuck), Mariano Rivera’s extended, five-out appearance (not closing as planned, but very Houdini-esque and October-like), Joe Girardi’s surprise appearance as bullpen catcher (which I guess justified his inclusion, since he wasn’t there on managerial merit), Dan Uggla’s incredible fielding butchery, Cristian Guzman’s stellar professional debut at third base, three game-extending outs at home plate in a two-inning span in the 10th and 11th, Russell Martin’s umpire-aided defensive wizardry (“Martin sets the standard for catchers who are fun to watch defensively. He’s like this every night,” I wrote), the sheer number of runs stranded at third base (three by the AL in the 10th, 11th and 12th, two by Uggla in the 10th and 12th), and the odd list of not-quite-stars who figured so prominently in the game’s late action after the marquee players were tucked in (Uggla, Guzman, Dioner Navarro, Ryan Ludwick…).

Perhaps the most interesting aspect, however, was figuring out how managers Terry Francona and Clint Hurdle would handle their dwindling supply of pitchers once the extra innings started to pile up. Francona milked a combined 5.2 innings and 81 pitches out of Rivera, Joakim Soria and George Sherrill, while Hurdle (“As a Rockies fan, I have to say – why would Hurdle start using his bullpen correctly now?” wrote one BP reader) squeezed three frames and 42 pitches out of his own pitcher, Aaron Cook. The prospect of a similar occurrence to 2002, when both sides ran out of pitchers and Bud Selig called the game a tie, loomed large and made us particularly giddy. I wondered aloud:

“So, what do you think Bud will do about home team advantage in the World Series if the two teams get to the point of the 2002 ASG where they’re out of pitchers and still tied? Award HFA to the AL on the grounds of interleague play results? Award it to the NL based on the AL having it last year? Figure out who would have had it under the old rule, which would mean having the AL in an even-numbered year?”

I never got a satisfactory answer, but that didn’t spoil the fun I had watching and yapping with friends (I had both Skype and iChat going on the side in addition to the roundtable) and colleagues. “Does that count against Team Beat with the Uggla Stick‘s stats?” asked my friend Issa. Carroll was shuffling through electronic gadgets as fast as they could re-juice: “I started out with a full charge on the [MacBook] Air, then switched to the iPhone for a couple innings while the Air recharged. Now the Air is back to 40% and I’ve switched back. Long game.” Goldstein, in particular, was rooting for the splatter: “Words cannot describe how much I’m hoping for extra innings, just for the mess it would create,” he wrote in the ninth. “Bud looks beyond miserable on the inning’s closing shot and I’ve never had so much fun watching an All-Star game,” he added at the end of the 12th. By the 13th he was in slumber party mode: “We go to the bottom of the 13th! Who’s still with us! Let’s stay up all night!” Upon the impending Seligocalypse, Jacques noted, “Anyone who says that an All Star Game tie would be ‘everyone’s worst nightmare’ doesn’t have vivid enough nightmares.”

In the end, those of us pulling for entropy nearly got our wish. Francona ultimately had to go against the wishes of his Red Sox’s closest competitor in the standings, the Rays, and use their best pitcher, Scott Kazmir, two days after he’d thrown 104 pitches. Both the team and the pitcher had requested that Kazmir, who began the year on the DL due to elbow woes, not pitch, but he worked a relatively tidy 15th inning for the AL as we wondered what came next. Fortunately for Francona and Selig, it was the game-winning run, courtesy of a Justin Morneau single, a Navarro single (thereby putting two of this game’s slowest runners on base), a Drew walk and finally a short fly ball by Michael Young. Morneau plodded to the plate as Corey Hart uncorked a pretty decent throw, but the runner was indisputably safe (unlike the one-game playoff last October) and the ballgame ended with the AL on top.

Even for a hardened All-Star cynic like me, that was a pretty great time. I might even watch again next year.

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