07/11/12 1:33 AM ET
All-Star Game slips away early for AL
By Richard Justice / MLB.com
There was a bloop triple here, an infield single there in the top of the first inning. American League starter Justin Verlander's fastball touched 101 mph, but the strike zone eluded him.
Suddenly, the National League led, 5-0, before the AL had come to bat, and NL manager Tony La Russa had the game right where he wanted it.
During his 33 seasons as a manager, one of the things La Russa did better than almost anyone was work a bullpen and protect a lead.
"When you're down, 5-0, you're going to have to come back against a bunch of All-Star pitchers," AL designated hitter Adam Dunn said after the NL rolled to an 8-0 victory. "It's going to be a tough challenge. It would have been the same situation if we'd gotten the lead."
Afterward, Verlander said he knew he was only going to pitch one inning, and so he focused on lighting up the radar run.
"I couldn't get the ball down," Verlander said. "I made bad pitches."
Verlander's first pitch was clocked at 97 mph. When he hit 100 mph a couple of pitches later, AL first baseman Prince Fielder wanted to see more.
"Get it up to 101," Fielder yelled.
Verlander did that on the very next pitch.
His normal routine is to throw in the low 90-mph range early in games and save his gas for critical spots in the late innings.
Verlander was disappointed by the outcome, but not the approach.
"I'm not going to go out there and throw 90 and hit my spots," he said. "This is primarily for the fans."
After that 5-0 first inning, La Russa played the game the way he'd drawn it up. He got two innings out of his starter, Matt Cain, and then used 10 pitchers for the final seven innings. Four of his final five hurlers were proven closers -- Craig Kimbrel, Aroldis Chapman, Joel Hanrahan and Jonathan Papelbon.
The AL was held to six hits, all singles, and went 0-for-7 with runners in scoring position.
Rangers manager Ron Washington said he would be happy to play the World Series in any ballpark, but he had wanted the chance to play the next Game 7 in his own backyard.
"Well, it's very disappointing, because we're competitors and we want to win," Washington said. "But I think you've got to tip your hat to the National League again. They came out, they swung the bats, once they got the lead, started bringing those arms in their hand, and they got the job done."
In the end, the AL didn't seem all that disappointed. To have home-field advantage in the World Series lends a level of comfort, but there's so much baseball yet to be played that it's too early to even begin thinking about such a thing.
Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter probably spoke for every player in the AL clubhouse when he said he had enjoyed the whole Kansas City experience, regardless of the outcome.
"Kansas City did a great job," he said. "We enjoyed ourselves. Their guys came out swinging. Those things happen in an All-Star Game. No one likes to be losing. You're competing. You're trying to win. It didn't start off too good for us."
Asked about the World Series, Jeter had a quick answer.
"I hope I'm there," he said. "If you're going to win, you're going to have to play well at home, and you're going to have to play well on the road. I hope I can complain about us being on the road in the World Series."
It's an indication of the respect Verlander is given by American Leaguers that they were more surprised than disappointed that he'd had a bad night at the office.
"They did a great job of taking some borderline pitches," Blue Jays outfielder Jose Bautista said. "If you ask Justin, he wasn't as accurate with his control as he usually is. He put himself in a tough situation, and they were able to take advantage. Ultimately, you want to win. It doesn't matter whether it's a regular-season game or an All-Star Game. We're all competitive. It's not what usually happens when Verlander is on the mound, so it's a little unusual."
Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.