- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 15, 2009

ST. LOUIS | The American League’s sheer dominance over the National League in the All-Star Game over the last 13 years isn’t all that hard to explain.

The AL, plain and simple, keeps doing the little things right and finds a way to beat its NL rivals, who keep finding ways to lose by the slimmest of margins.

Put another way: Think of the NL as the Washington Nationals, and the AL as everyone who plays the Nationals. Get the idea?

The junior circuit did it again Tuesday night, pushing across the go-ahead run in the eighth inning and then watching its counterparts squander a late golden opportunity to escape from Busch Stadium with a 4-3 victory.

That’s four straight one-run wins by the AL and 12 overall wins over the last 13 years, the lone exception coming in the infamous 2002 tie that forced Major League Baseball to award home-field advantage in the World Series to the winner of this exhibition.

Even the commander in chief is concerned about the lopsided nature of this event. As President Obama put it during his in-game visit to the Fox television booth: “This is a problem.”

So again Game 1 (and potentially Game 7) of the Fall Classic will be played in an AL city. The eventual pennant winners can thank Detroit’s Curtis Granderson and Baltimore’s Adam Jones for that. Granderson drilled a one-out triple off the left-field wall in the eighth, then scored the winning run moments later on Jones’ sacrifice fly.

Down a run, the NL had a perfect opportunity to rally in the bottom of the eighth, putting runners on second and third with two outs for Phillies slugger (and St. Louis native) Ryan Howard. Twins reliever Joe Nathan, though, made Howard look foolish on a 2-2 splitter in the dirt, killing the NL’s hopes of finally winning this annual event.

“We said we wanted to go beat them,” said Padres reliever Heath Bell, who was charged with the loss. “We played to win, and it’s unfortunate that I didn’t execute my pitches and we lost.”

Tuesday would have been a perfect time for the NL to get back on track and make a strong impression on the most famous of the 46,760 in attendance.

Obama agreed to come to the game in part because baseball was using the event to honor 30 “All-Stars Among Us” who have made a difference through public service. Those 30 fans appeared in the middle of the diamond during pregame ceremonies, stood alongside the big league All-Stars for the national anthems and received a standing ovation from the crowd.

Once the field was cleared, Obama was introduced and emerged from the first-base dugout wearing a black White Sox jacket with blue jeans and white sneakers. The South Side Chicago native strolled to the mound, fired a one-hop pitch to Albert Pujols and then shook hands with six Cardinals legends before jogging off the field with a wave to the crowd.

The president later appeared in the TV booth and showed how closely he follows the standings… particularly the team from his new home that sits at the bottom of the pack. Discussing how much parity there is in baseball, Obama said: “It means everybody around the country has a little bit of hope for the team. Maybe the exception, the Nationals, who are still young and have a new ballpark.”

Ouch.

“The truth hurts sometimes, huh?” said Ryan Zimmerman, Washington’s lone All-Star, when told of the president’s comment.

Zimmerman is one of the Nationals’ bright spots, and though his All-Star debut was uneventful - he went 0-for-2 with a couple of flyouts and played five innings at third base - he was still basking afterward.

“It was a lot of fun,” he said. “It gives you a lot of motivation to work even harder and get better and better each year. This being my first, just going through everything was kind of a whirlwind. It’s quite an honor.”

Zimmerman found himself part of a potent NL lineup that began the game needing to rally from behind thanks to a shaky start from reigning Cy Young Award winner Tim Lincecum. The lanky San Francisco right-hander seemed a bit fazed by the setting when he took the mound, allowing four of the first five batters he faced to reach safely, with two of them coming around to score.

The NL did strike back an inning later, though, getting four straight hits and a helpful throwing error by center fielder Josh Hamilton, all of it resulting in three runs and a lead change.

Things settled down considerably from there, with the two squads swapping zeroes - aside from a solo AL run in the fifth - and the NL lineup unable to do anything against a carousel of hard-throwing pitchers for much of the rest of the night. At one point, AL hurlers retired 18 straight batters, though that stretch was made possible by a spectacular catch by Carl Crawford of Brad Hawpe’s drive to the left-field wall that earned the Tampa Bay outfielder MVP honors.

“It’s definitely probably my best catch I’ve ever made,” he said. “I didn’t think it was going to carry that far, but it carried, and I just had to find the wall, make the adjustment and make the play on it.”

Crawford’s gem kept the game knotted 3-3 and ensured it would remain nip-and-tuck into the late innings. Of course, anyone who follows the All-Star Game closely knows it doesn’t matter how tight these contests are, the AL always will find a way to emerge on top.

“I give them all the credit in the world,” NL manager Charlie Manuel said. “They played a tremendous game. They got a big hit when they had to, and they held us at the end.”

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