AL arms rise to occasion, smother NL in crunch time
After giving up early three-run lead, Farrell's staff locks down All-Star Game victory
MINNEAPOLIS -- One after another, the big arms hanging around in the American League bullpen came into the game and did what they do.
Some starters, some relievers, all pounders of the strike zone and shatterers of bats, the eight guys at the end of John Farrell's pitching staff turned a hitter's night into just the latest example of how pitchers are dominating the game.
From Chris Sale and Max Scherzer to Koji Uehara, Fernando Rodney and hometown hero Glen Perkins, the AL pitchers won one big matchup after another against the National League's best hitters. In the end, it was enough to allow the AL to hang onto its 5-3 victory, not that most of the hitters in the winning clubhouse were celebrating their own accomplishments.
Outside of the early work by Derek Jeter, Mike Trout, Miguel Cabrera and Jonathan Lucroy, the All-Star Game at Target Field was a pitchers' night.
"No words for it, it's incredible," Cuban slugger Jose Abreu said of the level of pitching in the game. "I've always said this is the best baseball in the world. Being the best baseball in the world, it's going to be the best pitchers. It's incredible to look out there and see those pitchers, what they're throwing."
NL hitters collected five doubles among their eight hits, but they were 1-for-11 with runners in scoring position. Those at-bats, as much as anything, allowed the AL to survive after spoiling an early 3-0 lead.
There were only two big hits by NL hitters, and both of them were doubles from Milwaukee's Lucroy. Once he was out of the game, replaced by Devin Mesoraco in the bottom of the fourth inning, every big situation was won by AL pitching.
That was the tone that was set early, when Andrew McCutchen was stranded on third base after outrunning Jeter's throw for one of the most exciting infield singles you'll ever see. Felix Hernandez allowed McCutchen to advance to third on a wild pitch and then an easy steal, but he was only doing his Bob Gibson/Ferguson Jenkins imitation.
Those guys didn't get preoccupied by baserunners; they sometimes let them steal bases because they were confident they'd get the hitters out. Hernandez did just that, striking out Yasiel Puig and Troy Tulowitzki and then retiring Paul Goldschmidt on a grounder to third baseman Josh Donaldson.
The NL's next chance to take the lead came after Lucroy's double off the right-field wall tied the score at 3 with two outs in the fourth. Sale wasn't about to let his team fall into a hole. He buried Carlos Gomez the way he has so many hitters this season en route to holding opposing batters to a .190 average.
Sale started Gomez off with an 81-mph slider, which was taken for a strike. He dialed up a 96-mph fastball, which Gomez fouled off. Then Sale threw an 83-mph slider past him, ending the threat in three pitches.
"You obviously don't want anything to get out of hand," Sale said. "I'd already blown the game for us right there. You just try to limit the damage, not let anyone else get across."
Tulowitzki doubled off Scherzer with two outs in the fifth. But like Gomez in the fourth, Goldschmidt went down swinging on three pitches. He fouled off a 95-mph fastball, then swung through one measured at 95 and another at 96.
"It's making pitches against really good hitters," Scherzer said. "You have to believe that you're better than them. I have the utmost respect for all the players in the NL, but at the end of the day, when you're on the mound, you have to believe that your stuff's better and attack them."
Aramis Ramirez pulled a double over third base off Oakland's Scott Kazmir in the sixth inning. Kazmir quickly got ahead of Dee Gordon with a slider, then got him to hit a grounder to second base on another slider. Farrell then made his best move of the game.
Farrell turned to Uehara, the Red Sox's closer, to face the dangerous Mesoraco, who has hit seven of his 16 home runs in the last month. Uehara showed him his fastball to start the sequence, and he swung through it. Then he fed him his trademark splitter three times, the last of which left Mesoraco swinging at air.
Rodney did the last of the heavy lifting, striking out the Mets' Daniel Murphy with two on to end the eighth inning. Then it was time for the Twins' Perkins to come in for a 1-2-3 ninth, ending a run that saw eight AL pitchers retire 16 of 20 hitters, five of them with runners on second or third.
"You got guys coming in with ridiculous numbers out of the bullpen," said the Royals' Greg Holland, who worked a perfect seventh inning. "The game has kind of evolved into a situation where if your starter can just give you six innings, you've got three closers down there for the seventh, eighth and ninth. Now put 'em all together on one team."
Holland and the other pitchers almost sounded sorry for the hitters.
Phil Rogers is a columnist to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.