07/09/10 9:30 AM ET
AL win in All-Star Game is just the way it is
Left-handed dominance, Ichiro's speech will carry the day
It's just the way these things work, you see. The Junior Circuit coming away with an All-Star Game win -- some way, somehow -- is as sure a thing in the summertime as empty classrooms, reruns on network television and traffic jams heading to the shore.
OK, perhaps it's not fair to completely rule out the National League. Its talented roster wields some of the best young pitching the game has to offer, and runs should be at a premium for the AL's hitters, unless a few guys forget to pack their good stuff in their carry-on luggage on the way to the mound.
Surely Charlie Manuel's crew would love to take one home, giving the NL home-field advantage in the World Series for the first time since the game began having postseason implications. That will happen, eventually -- baseball's balance doesn't permit streaks that run forever.
But it hasn't happened yet, which calls to mind what we will try to call the Charles Nagy rule, named for the last losing All-Star Game pitcher who wore an AL uniform. The year was 1996 and the game was played at Philadelphia's Veterans Stadium, which has served as a parking lot since the end of 2003, exactly as long as Nagy has been out of the big leagues.
The AL has won seven straight Midsummer Classics -- the third-longest streak in All-Star Game history -- and has not lost in the past 13, the 2002 game ending in a 7-7 tie. The NL hasn't won since 1996 -- the longest dry spell of either league since the game's inception in 1933.
Here are the reasons why the American League will continue its streak of dominance in the shadows of Disneyland.
The luck of the bounce. If you ask the AL's representatives for reasons why they've been so dominant, the answer comes back in the form of a blank stare. Who really has a definitive reason? As much as everyone likes to pretend that the AL has the NL on lockdown, the truth is that the AL's past four wins have each come by a single run. That matches the longest string of one-run decisions in All-Star Game history, and is a reminder that keeping the game close is a key to pushing ahead near the finish line -- getting things moving against a terrific cast of NL pitching that didn't really need Stephen Strasburg to appear dominant. As Derek Jeter has said, "They have great players and a great team, but we're just fortunate." Maybe they'll continue to be.
Lefties on lefties. Joe Girardi is the type of manager who likes to double-switch with his designated hitter on occasion just to prove he remembers how to do it, and the bumper crop of lefties that his pitching staff will wield should provide him with opportunities to crunch the numbers. Actually, while Girardi is never without his ever-present binder of stats on the bench during Yankees games, he probably won't even need to have it handy in Anaheim. When Girardi lets Cliff Lee, Jon Lester or Matt Thornton throw their innings, the best late options the NL has to offer are all left-handed batters -- the likes of Adrian Gonzalez, Ryan Howard, Joey Votto and Brian McCann. Manuel can counter, if he wants, with ... Corey Hart?
The Yankees and the Red Sox. Remember these guys? Sure, the AL East rivals aren't lacking for airtime in the national spotlight, and maybe it would be nice once in a while if they'd play nice and let other teams get the front-row seats. But there were eight Yankees and five Red Sox players named All-Stars for a reason, and it comes from the swelled fan bases urged by producing winning baseball over the recent past. Girardi is intimately familiar with the skill sets of the players from both teams, and while it appears he may select Tampa Bay's David Price to start, he could just as easily consider going with Jon Lester or Andy Pettitte. In any event, the talent level makes home-field advantage relevant for a select few clubs, and these are two of them.
Closing time. The NL wasn't shedding any tears when Mariano Rivera came off the field before a game in Oakland, pointing to his left side and his right knee to declare that he needed four days off more than another record-setting save in the All-Star Game. Removing the best closer in postseason history from Girardi's stable would seem to be a plus for the NL, but the Royals' Joakim Soria and the Rays' Rafael Soriano have been outstanding. Meanwhile, Detroit's Jose Valverde can offer the kind of eccentric, fist-pumping exclamation point that Rivera never would. The AL bullpen hasn't allowed a run since Justin Duchscherer pitched the sixth inning at the old Yankee Stadium in 2008.
Ichiro's speech. You might laugh, and that's OK, because the American Leaguers certainly do -- every single year. But one thing is certain: When Ichiro bolts out of his clubhouse chair and rips into his team with a profanity-laced pep talk, it commands everyone's attention. That shocking rallying cry has carried the AL since 2001, cutting through all of the tension and reminding the players that this is a fun event. Whether it's a returning veteran or a first-time All-Star, everyone seems to look forward to hearing Ichiro break out of his shell once a year and declare war on the National League. And with that call to arms, how could they do anything but follow him to victory?
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.