That was one hell of an All-Star baseball game.
I mistakenly thought I was going to watch the performance night of So You Think You Can Dance but caught the pre-game introductions of the MLB All-Star game instead (don't know why that was in my head the all afternoon, but there you go). I had a late night at work and came home running towards the elevator at around 8:05 pm when the doorman at my apartment building called out "Just in time for the baseball game!" I was momentarily confused and soon discovered why when I turned my television on.
I was looking at an assemblage of baseball heroes past on the Yankee Stadium diamond. After the momentous occasion that was the Home Run Derby the night before, I decided to stick around and watch a full game of baseball. My first since the Boston Red Sox won their first world series championship. Little did I know that I was in for a really looong night.
But I didn't mind. I had forgotten how great the game was. I watched basketball more often, but I appreciated every single sport and tried to watch all of them. When I was younger, I used to endure sleepless nights just staying up late to watch sports on ESPN. It didn't matter what sport it was – basketball, golf, hockey, football, NFL, baseball, tennis, billiards, gymnastics, even dressage. Baseball was probably one of those sports that people – non-Americans, especially – find hard to appreciate. Particularly when you are not familiar with half the people that are on the field, and nothing seems to be going on for several innings. But this was probably the only game when you didn't care who else what out there (seriously, who kept track of the outfielders?), and the only game when good defense made it even more exciting and more fascinating to watch. (Offense worked, too, and I remember seeing my all-time favorite baseball player, Blue Jays' John Olerud, for the first time and loving him rip one every time he came up to bat.)
Baseball's first line of defense is always the pitcher. And in last night's All Star game, pitching was ON FIRE. There were strikeouts aplenty, and the first five or six innings flew by very fast as the defense dominated. Sure there were a couple of hits – homers even – but it was such great fun seeing all these great baseball players struggle to score a run. There were groundouts, flyouts, a bunt, two sacrifice flies (one of which helped decide the game), and at one point, a stream of forceouts at the HOME PLATE with the bases loaded. How the heck did that happen?!? And how the heck did the NL not win after that!?!?
Ah, but the AL kept it close. With nary a Yankee in sight, and only one Red Sox player on the field, and all of them non-starters, the game took a strange turn as it headed into the wee hours of the morning. Managers all over the league had their worst nightmares confirmed as Francona and Hurdle used up every pitcher on their roster, many for more than two innings. For closers and one-inning relief pitchers with the competitive post-season looming, it was their worst fears realized as they sat and stood for innings on end, warming up endlessly, and throwing too many pitches. (Poor Lidge; at least Francona ably used Mariano Rivera when he only pitched 2 innings.) And as the game pushed further into the dawn, position players were being recruited in contingency plans as relief pitchers themselves – a thought too strange to comprehend but may most likely be an interesting visual.
However, in the 15th and FINAL inning, the AL finally broke through with a Mike Young sac fly and Justin Morneau, Home Run Derby winner and consistent batter, slid into home plat and narrowly missing the tag.
It was a great end to a great (albeit long) night. And a fitting farewell to that "Cathedral of Baseball" Yankee Stadium. As if the ghosts of Yankees would not bear to see their beloved game end on their turf. 2008 was a pitcher's year (see Sabathia, Harden, Santana) and this all-star game showed it.