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On baseball

They can't keep running on empty

Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Nick Cafardo
Globe Staff / July 16, 2008

NEW YORK - Can we agree that last night provided yet another example that in modern baseball, when All-Star pitchers can't and won't be overused in an exhibition game, more of them are needed?

Twelve just aren't enough. Last night was nearly an embarrassing repeat of 2002, when the All-Star Game ended in a 7-7 tie after 11 innings because all the pitchers had been used. Last night's 4-3 American League win in 15 innings came down to Tampa Bay lefthander Scott Kazmir, who had thrown 104 pitches Sunday.

The National League had nobody left except Brad Lidge, the loser. Manager Clint Hurdle even had to use Brandon Webb, who also pitched Sunday and, like Kazmir, wasn't supposed to work last night. Compounding Hurdle's dilemma: Tim Lincecum was unavailable, having been hospitalized with flu-like symptoms.

"The last two hours wasn't fun," said Red Sox - and AL - manager Terry Francona. "I was very nervous."

He should have been. He didn't have enough pitchers.

It's too bad that this was the focus of this marathon, because the main show was really the wonder ful pregame ceremony involving 49 Hall of Famers and The Boss, George Steinbrenner, who made an emotional appearance in a golf cart reminiscent of the Ted Williams tribute at Fenway Park in 1999.

Commissioner Bud Selig must resolve the pitching issue. If he wants this game to determine home-field advantage in the World Series, he can't risk having it end in a tie because the teams have run out of players. Ironically, the decision to base the World Series advantage on this game, reached in the wake of the '02 fiasco, seemed to have merit - until last night - because it had increased the intensity of the game.

These teams cared about winning, they just couldn't get a hit at the right time.

"You just never know what shape an All-Star Game is going to take," said Alex Rodriguez, whom Francona lifted with one out in the fifth so he could receive an ovation from his hometown fans. Rodriguez called it "a very classy move."

This night took all sorts of twists and turns, and like 1999 in Boston, all you really needed to watch was the memorable pregame ceremony. But you got a lot in between until the AL extended its unbeaten streak to 12 on Michael Young's bases-loaded sacrifice fly.

The pregame event was really the showstopper.

"It was very emotional, very overwhelming," said A-Rod. "That was the way it was in Boston. Whitey [Ford] was bawling. I went to hug him and he was bawling."

The living Hall of Famers on hand were introduced and took their positions on the field. The current All-Stars then took their places next to them. The most emotional moment and the biggest ovation came for center fielder Willie Mays, a "true Giant," according to Joe Buck, the master of ceremonies.

But there was more. Steinbrenner was introduced as he rode in on a golf cart with his daughter Jennifer by his side. It looked as if the 78-year-old Steinbrenner was quivering, crying, overwhelmed by the moment. He remained in the cart as old-time Yankees like Reggie Jackson, Yogi Berra, Ford, and Goose Gossage kissed him on the cheek. It was all very moving. Berra, Jackson, Gossage, and Ford threw the ceremonial first pitches.

As enthralling as the Williams tribute was in Boston, this was the equivalent.

"It was the greatest show I've ever seen for an All-Star Game," said A-Rod, who was not at the '99 game. Only Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, and Manny Ramírez played in both.

The night was filled with an assortment of chants from the 55,632 fans. They weren't shy about booing anyone wearing a Red Sox uniform, and much to their dismay, there were a lot of them.

"One day we can all be friends and mix red and blue," said A-Rod.

Yankee fans didn't quite see it that way.

When Jonathan Papelbon came on in the eighth, he was booed so loudly and for so long that you worried about your eardrums popping. He had received the loudest Bronx cheer during introductions. Papelbon gave up an unearned run on an Adrian Gonzalez sacrifice fly in the eighth that gave the NL a 3-2 lead, drawing the ire of New York fans. Papelbon had a bull's-eye on his back because he dared suggest that he would have chosen himself to pitch the ninth inning instead of Rivera. Of course, he also said Rivera should close the game. Yankees fans didn't remember that part.

Earlier in the day, Papelbon's pregnant wife, Ashley, had been threatened along the Sixth Avenue parade route. Papelbon felt the New York media had incited the threats by overplaying and distorting the story.

That didn't stop the razzing. Papelbon started hearing it as soon as Miguel Tejada singled, stole second, and advanced to third on a throwing error by catcher Dioner Navarro. That apparently was Papelbon's fault as well. And when Gonzalez's fly scored Tejada, Papelbon's name was really mud.

No worries for Papelbon, though. Evan Longoria bailed him out in the bottom of the eighth when Tampa Bay's rookie third baseman smacked a ground-rule double to left, scoring Grady Sizemore to tie it, 3-3. Even though it was a Rays player who drove home the key run, that seemed easier for Yankees fans to take.

And then the tension began. Francona was chewing away on a wad of bubble gum and tobacco, wondering what he would do if this game didn't end soon.

He would have had to use a position player to pitch.

Which is why the hugs he gave Justin Morneau, Young, and Drew weren't so much in celebration as relief that another embarrassing moment for baseball had been avoided.

Nick Cafardo can be reached at cafardo@globe.com.

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