AL wins marathon midsummer classic

On a perfect summer evening for baseball, in the sport's most venerable cathedral, with nearly 50 of its all-time greats looking on, the 79th All-Star Game simply didn't want the good times to end.

The longest midsummer classic, time-wise, in history finally halted in the 15th inning on a Michael Young sacrifice fly that scored Justin Morneau and gave the American League a 4-3 victory in the fourth and final All-Star Game played at Yankee Stadium, which closes at season's end.

"It was fun," said Orioles closer George Sherrill, who pitched a game-high 2 1/3 innings, which tied his big-league career high. "A great stadium and a really good way to send it out."

The victory was the AL's sixth straight, and the sixth consecutive time it has captured home field advantage in the World Series, a caveat implemented after the 11-inning All-Star Game tie in 2002. The AL's 12-game unbeaten streak is the longest in the exhibition's history.

It was only the second time that an All-Star Game has lasted 15 innings -- the other was in 1967-- and it was just the second one that was decided in the final at-bat.

Morneau's slide -- just ahead of the throw from Milwaukee right fielder Corey Hart -- came at 1:37 a.m.

"I was just praying at that point," Young said. "I was about to take a nap right there."

As soon as he hit the ball to medium right, Young said he expected Morneau to dash home.

"I think he was going to try and go if I had popped up to second," Young said. "We were trying anything at that point to push a run across."

The marathon had just about everything, including several bang-bang plays at home plate and three errors made by one player, Florida Marlins second baseman Dan Uggla.

By the time it was done -- a grueling four hours and 50 minutes after the first pitch -- each team had used every available player on its 30-man rosters. Only San Francisco right-hander Tim Lincecum didn't pitch, and that's because he had been taken to the hospital earlier in the day due to flu-like symptoms.

Tampa Bay's Scott Kazmir, who had thrown 104 pitches on Sunday afternoon, was the last AL player to be used. He pitched a scoreless inning for the win, and said he probably could have gone one or two more innings.

And who would have gone after him?

"There was nobody else," he said. "Maybe (Tampa Bay Rays third baseman Evan) Longoria. He's got a good curveball."

Boston Red Sox outfielder J.D. Drew, who had two hits in four at-bats, was named the game's Most Valuable Player. His two-run homer in the seventh inning tied the game at 2. Drew became the 15th person to homer in his first All-Star at-bat. He said he also was prepared to pitch if his manager, Terry Francona, needed him.

On a surreal night, Drew had perhaps the most surreal moment: He was cheered by a soldout Yankee Stadium crowd of 55,632 that takes pleasure in razzing the Red Sox.

"It was a little weird," Drew said. "I heard about it when I got back out to right field for sure. Then, as the game went along, I think they forgot I hit a home run and (the insults) picked up again."

If Drew was the official hero, Sherrill was the unsung one. He began warming up in the sixth inning, when the Oakland Athletics' Justin Duchscherer ran into a little trouble. But Duchscherer got out of the jam, and Sherrill sat.

He assumed he wouldn't pitch, but was summoned in the 12th with the bases loaded and two outs.

He struck out the San Diego Padres' Adrian Gonzalez on three pitches.

Sherrill lasted for two more innings, retiring seven of the eight batters he faced. The only one that reached was New York Mets third baseman David Wright on a broken-bat single.

"It was just a matter of going out, putting up zeroes and giving us a chance to win and keeping [Kazmir] out of the game," Sherrill said. "But 15 innings? What are you going to do?"

In a tense contest, the sides swapped single runs in the eighth and headed into extra innings tied 3-3. The AL loaded the bases in the 10th with no outs -- thanks to consecutive errors by Uggla -- but Colorado's Aaron Cook got three consecutive groundouts to end that threat. They almost scored again in the 11th, but Pittsburgh's Nate McLouth threw a strike from center to nab the Rays' Dioner Navarro on another close play at the plate.

The game was scoreless through four innings -- the first time that had happened in an All-Star Game since 1990 -- but Colorado's Matt Holliday homered against Los Angeles Angels pitcher Ervin Santana to lead off the fifth. The NL added a second run in the sixth inning on a sacrifice fly by Houston's Lance Berkman against Duchscherer.

The AL tied it in the seventh on Drew's homer against Cincinnati Reds' rookie Edinson Volquez.

It looked like the night would never end -- but the clubs weren't walking away with a tie. Not with home-field advantage in the World Series on the line.

"We were told the game would find a way to finish itself. I'm good with that," NL manager Clint Hurdle said. "Black and white. Plain and simple. We knew that going in."

The game, at least early on, was overshadowed by where it was held, and by the great ghosts of baseball's past that returned for pre-game ceremonies.

Each of the 49 Hall of Famers was introduced individually, receiving a loud ovation and taking a spot at the position where they once excelled. The 2008 AL and NL starters joined them.

"It's special. If you appreciate the sport, you have to appreciate the history," Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter said. "You are talking about a lot of great players, just to be around those guys, and over the years you develop relationships with them. That is something, that means a lot."

The frenzied Yankees fans hit a crescendo when the catchers were announced, and the legendary Yogi Berra was saved for last. A chant of "Yogi, Yogi" filled the thick Bronx air.

But the Yankees weren't done. The club's 78-year-old owner George Steinbrenner was wheeled in on a golf cart to present the game balls, which were thrown by the four living Hall of Famers who entered Cooperstown as a Yankee: Berra, Whitey Ford, Reggie Jackson and Goose Gossage (who will be inducted this month).

Several Hall of Famers embraced Steinbrenner -- though it didn't come close to matching the spontaneous outpouring for Ted Williams in 1999 at Boston's Fenway Park.

That one, in essence, was a time to celebrate the life of the game's greatest living hitter.

This one celebrated the eventual end of the most storied stadium in sports, a venue that hosted World Series and NFL championship games and title fights.

And one final, flash-bulb-popping, never-ending, instant-classic All-Star Game.


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