Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Was that the greatest All-Star Game ever played?

Last night's game featured key home runs and dramatic strikeouts, top-notch defensive plays and ugly errors, great pitching and great hitting, and extra, extra innings. You probably already know how it ended. If right field had been manned by a strong-armed outfielder, they might still be playing. Instead, Corey Hart's rainbow-like throw arrived a split-second late to nail Justin Morneau at the plate and the American League had its 11th straight victory (not including the infamous tie of 2002).

How does it stack up against other great All-Star Games? Well there's a lot to choose from, but here are some other great games going back to 1950 and their highlights:

1994: NL 8, AL 7 (10)
Fred McGriff smacked a one-out, two-run home run in the bottom of the ninth against closer Lee Smith to tie the game, then the Nationals won it in the 10th on a run-scoring double by Moises Alou.

1987: NL 2, AL 0 (13)
A classic pitchers duel with no runs scoring until Tim Raines hit a triple to drive in both NL runs.

1979: NL 7, AL 6
A bases-loaded walk in the top of the ninth to Lee Mazzilli drove in the winning run, but Dave Parker was the star with two outfield assists -- one at home in the 8th, the other at third in the 7th.

1972: NL 4, AL 3 (10)
Joe Morgan drove in the winning run on a single in the bottom of the tenth after the Nationals tied it in the 9th.

1970: NL 5, AL 4 (12)
The AL entered the ninth with a 4-1 lead, but a homer, three singles, and a sacrifice fly by the NL tied the score and sent the game to extra innings. The game stretched to the 12th, when three consecutive 2-out singles gave the NL another victory.

1967: NL 2, AL 1 (15)
The longest game in All-Star history, a tense pitchers duel in the midst of a great pitchers era. Tony Perez slammed the game-winning homer in the top of the 15th and 22-year-old rookie Tom Seaver shut down the AL in the bottom of the inning.

1961 (1st): NL 5, AL 4 (10)
A wild one at Candlestick Park. The famous moment came when Stu Miller committed a wind-aided balk in the 9th.* The AL trailed 3-1 in the 9th, but tied it up thanks to Miller's balk and an error by 3B Ken Boyer. The AL took the lead in the top of the 10th on Boyer's second error, but in the bottom of the tenth, the NL struck back with two runs courtesy of the four best outfielders of their generation: Hank Aaron singled, Willie Mays doubled him home, Frank Robinson was hit by a pitch, and Roberto Clemente singled in Mays for the winning run. How awesome would it have been to be there!

*He was not "blown off the mound," as you read in some accounts. A gust of wind came up and caused Miller to move a bit, and the umpire called the balk. Here's what Miller said years later: "Before I threw a pitch, I went into a stretch position and then there was an extra gust of wind and I just wavered a bit." Read this story for more details.

1957: AL 6, NL 5
The AL scored three in the top of the 9th to make it 6-2, but the NL charged back to score three runs in the bottom of the inning. Gus Bell was thrown out at third base by Minnie Minoso for the second out of the inning, and Gil Hodges lined out to end the game with the winning run on second base.

1955: NL 6, AL 5 (12)
The Americans blew a 5-0 lead by allowing two in the 7th and three in the 8th. Stan Musial slammed a walk-off home run in the bottom of the 12th.

1950: NL 4, AL 3 (14)
Ralph Kiner tied the score in the top of the ninth with a home run, and Red Schoendienst homered in the 12th to win it.

(I'll tackle the greatest pre-1950 games later.)

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