AL stars downplay dominance despite decade-long trend

The Baltimore Sun

SAN FRANCISCO -- Officially, Tuesday's 5-4 win will go down as another American League All-Star Game victory during one of the most lopsided periods in the sport's history.

But it sure didn't feel like it for the AL squad, which hasn't lost to the National League since 1996 - including the infamous 2002 tie - a record-matching span of 11 games.

"I have no theory at all," Minnesota Twins center fielder Torii Hunter said about the streak. "Those guys can play. You see those guys come back. That was scary. That put fear in my heart."

The National League trailed 5-2 heading into the ninth inning, but a two-out, two-run homer by the Chicago Cubs' Alfonso Soriano against Seattle Mariners closer J.J. Putz cut the lead to one. And then Putz and Los Angeles Angels closer Francisco Rodriguez combined to walk the bases loaded before Rodriguez retired Philadelphia Phillies outfielder Aaron Rowand on a flyout to end the game.

Because of the way it ended, talk of domination was shelved Tuesday night. In fact, American League manager Jim Leyland of the Detroit Tigers immediately dismissed the topic - hinting that it is more about coincidence or luck than any tangible example of one league being better than the other. "I really don't believe in that dominant thing," Leyland said. "That's happened in the All-Star Game. It's a totally different ballgame to be honest with you."

Still, only one other time in the 78-year history of the midsummer classic has one league gone 11 years without losing to the other. That was from 1972 to 1982, back when it looked like the American League would never win.

But the so-called Senior Circuit has been victorious just six times in the past 25 games, and holds a 40-36-2 overall lead - after once being ahead 34-18-1.

During the NL's decades-long dominance, the exhibition was simply about bragging rights. But after the 2002 game ended in a tie, commissioner Bud Selig introduced meaning to the All-Star Game: World Series home-field advantage to the winner. The concept doesn't always sit well, even with the winners.

"We are competitive. We want to win no matter what," Hunter said. "You don't need to have the World Series tied to the end of it."

Since the rule was enacted, the American League has won home-field advantage all five times. Interestingly, the leagues have split the following World Series, 2-2.

Yet the common perception is that home-field advantage in the World Series is important. And, without a doubt, it's on the minds of All-Stars who play on championship contenders.

That's what Rodriguez said moments after his complicated, but eventually effective, save Tuesday night. He wasn't solely pitching for the American League in July. He was pitching for his AL West-leading Angels in October.

"We knew how important it is to have home-field advantage, especially in the World Series," Rodriguez said. "Hopefully, it is us" who'll benefit from it in the World Series.

dan.connolly@baltsun.com

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