Despite my high hopes, the National League lost for the thirteenth season in a row last night, though it was a close and entertaining baseball game. Actually, it was remarkably normal, compared to last year's extra innings epic.
At the end of the day, I think the game's result came down to three things:
The NL's defense, while not embarrassing, had a few issues. The first inning was probably the most striking. Lincecum was struggling with navigating his way through the scary top of the American League lineup (and had some control issues), but still managed to get some ground balls that should have gotten him out of it with minimal damage. But Between Pujols' error and Wright's inability to accurately gun it to first for a double play (not an easy one to make, to be fair), the AL was able to take an early lead. I don't know about you, but after that first inning I felt a little uneasy whenever a ground ball was hit to an NL infielder (though Pujols would redeem himself later with some great plays in the field). Justin Upton also had a bit of an adventure on an outfield play in the later innings, though I've seen worse. Then again, I'm a Mets fan, so my standards for "embarrassing defense" are at "Can you catch a pop-up?" and "Don't trip and fall flat on your face while chasing down a fly ball" levels these days.
Carl Crawford's catch was the highlight of the night, and will be the lasting memory from this game. The guy is simply a remarkable athlete and player, and it was great to see him get some mainstream spotlight for a change. Let's remember he's been in Tampa Bay his whole career, and was one of the only bright spots on some horrible teams in that franchise's past history.
The American League bullpen is absolutely sick.
I mentioned it before the game, and it played out just as I predicted: the American League was playing a six inning game. When you can end with Papelbon, Nathan and Rivera, I don't have much confidence in the other team's ability to put runs on the board, no matter who has a bat in their hands. Think of it this way: it's hard enough for American League players to hit Mariano Rivera's cutter, so what do you think it's like for a National League player who hasn't seen it all year (and very well may have never seen it, period?)
At the end of the day, this had to be the key to the game, and to the American League's overall success over the years. Chad Billingsley and Heath Bell are great pitchers who are having good years and will probably come back to the All-Star Game many times, but they got scored on in the later innings. And who can blame them, they were facing American League All-Star hitters.
But whether it's exceptional talent, intimidation factor, or a little bit of both, it's just hard to picture even the best National League team scoring runs off Papelbon, Nathan or Rivera. The starters like Pujols, Wright, Utley and Ramirez might have had a chance, but once you get to the late game substitutions, you're a slight step down from there in talent level.
So, congratulations to the American League once again. Another year of home field advantage at the World Series, and another year of sighs from National League fans. There's always next year in Anaheim.