Photo by Ross D. Franklin
PHOENIX -- Prince Fielder's three-run homer sailed over the left-field wall at Chase Field, and the conveyor belt from the National League bullpen began.
One after another, a hard-throwing pitcher walked to the mound -- well, one of them sprinted and slid into the infield feet first -- and then shut down the American League's hitters for the second straight year.
With pitching, speed and a little bit of power from the Prince, the NL is king of the All-Star game once again, using the same formula that worked during its dominating run in the 1970s and '80s.
Roy Halladay combined with nine relievers on a six-hitter in the NL's 5-1 victory Tuesday night, giving the senior circuit its first two-game winning streak since the mid-1990s.
Brian Wilson got two outs for manager Bruce Bochy and earned the save, just as he did for the Giants skipper when San Francisco won the championship last November.
"It felt like a little bit like last year when you come into a pressure situation and you try to do a clutch performance as you can," Wilson said.
Heath Bell provided the image of the night an inning earlier, sprinting in from the bullpen and tearing up the turf with a slide just short of the mound.
"I told some guys I wanted to have fun this All-Star game and needed some ideas, so guys back home kind of said slide on the mound," he revealed. "Bochy said before the game that this really counts, so I thought I was not going to do it, but then we were up by four runs."
His NL teammates were impressed.
"I think he nailed it," Wilson said. "I don't know if I'd make it. I think I'd slip, ankle, flip, next thing you know I can't pitch."
The NL claimed home-field advantage in the World Series, its only blemish being Adrian Gonzalez's homer in the fourth off Cliff Lee. Fielder connected in the bottom half of the inning.
"It's hard to beat great pitching and a three-run homer," Bochy said.
With several big names as no-shows, the AL lost more than the game.
Boston right-hander Josh Beckett warmed up, then bowed out with a sore knee. Detroit slugger Miguel Cabrera left after hurting the oblique muscle in his side while swinging.
"We are not going to use not having Josh as an excuse," AL manager Ron Washington said. "I think when you look at the ballgame, the bottom line is the National League pitching was outstanding. You know, we ended up giving up one big inning and they didn't give up any."
Even before they were hurt, many stars were missing. Justin Verlander, Felix Hernandez, CC Sabathia and other aces who started Sunday were ineligible, Alex Rodriguez was among those on the disabled list and Derek Jeter wanted a break. In all, 16 of 84 All-Stars dropped out.
Tyler Clippard got the win despite allowing a single to his only batter, Adrian Beltre. Clayton Kershaw, Jair Jurrjens, Craig Kimbrel, Jonny Venters, Joel Hanrahan also relieved and combined to keep the NL ahead.
Fielder won the MVP award after becoming the first Brewers player to homer in an All-Star game. The World Series edge could help him later, with Milwaukee and St. Louis tied for the Central lead at the break. A half-hour after the win, the Brewers announced they had traded for former All-Star closer Francisco Rodriguez of the New York Mets.
"That was part of the message, how important it was for us, and how important the game was: Do it again for the National League champion," Bochy said.
Fielder, son of former All-Star Cecil Fielder, was booed during the Home Run Derby a day earlier. He was the NL captain for the Derby, and local fans were angry he didn't select Arizona's Justin Upton.
"I didn't take it personal at all," Fielder said. "I understood it. No hard feelings."
Andre Ethier singled in a run off rookie reliever Jordan Walden in the fifth, and slimmed-down Pablo Sandoval had an RBI double off Brandon League in the seventh.
The NL dashed around the bases and swiped three bags, all in one inning and two by Starlin Castro. In all, the Nationals have enjoyed their best run since taking three in a row from 1994-96 -- they had lost 12 straight games played to a decision before a 3-1 victory at Anaheim last year.
Before a crowd of 47,994 that included Muhammad Ali, this was no desert classic -- except for fans of pitching, which has become resurgent as the Steroids Era has receded. Scoring in the first half dropped to its lowest level in 19 years and the major league batting average shrunk to its smallest midseason figure since 1985.
The All-Star homers were the first since J.D. Drew connected at Yankee Stadium three years ago. The AL finished with six hits for the second straight year and its two-year total of two runs is its lowest since 1995-96.
"Just a coincidence," Curtis Granderson said.
Given the temperature outside, the theme song could have been Buster Poindexter's "Hot Hot Hot." And except for Lee, that's what the NL pitching was.
Texas' C.J. Wilson, the fourth AL pitcher, took the loss for the team run by his manager, Washington. Wilson had trouble with the unfamiliar role of late: coming out of the 'pen.
"It is a complete circus. You don't have a routine at all," he said. "The ball launches here."
Outside in the 99-degree heat, two separate groups opposed to Arizona's controversial immigration law protested outside before the game. One quietly passed out white ribbons that symbolized peace and unity and the other loudly chanting in bullhorns and marching in circles with signs that read "Boycott hate" and "Stand with us."
However, there was little sign of the ribbons in the stands.
While it was hot outside in the Sonoran Desert, it was a comfy 72 thanks to an 8,000-ton cooling system in the ballpark.
Halladay and Lee showed the strength that has given Philadelphia the best record in the majors, Halladay retired six straight batters -- the first to do that in an All-Star game since Roger Clemens in 2001. Lee got out his first five.
"I figured a lot of those guys were going to be swinging early," said Halladay, who started for the AL in 2009 and joined Vida Blue, Clemens and Randy Johnson as the only pitchers to open for both leagues.
Gonzalez, who switched leagues in the offseason by going from San Diego to Boston, lined an 86 mph cutter just to the right-field side of the swimming pool, where women in bikinis and a man in a Santa Claus outfit were watching.
Carlos Beltran singled to shortstop leading off the bottom half and Matt Kemp singled before Fielder gave the NL a 3-1 lead by hitting an 88 mph cutter the opposite way to left-center on a 2-2 count. The drive gave every major league team except the Diamondbacks at least one All-Star home run.
"They've got great pitching and great hitting," Kevin Youkilis said. "That's what makes these things kind of fun."
NOTES: There was a moment of silence before the game for the victims of the Tucson shootings in January, among them Christina-Taylor Green, the 9-year-old daughter of Dodgers scout John Green and granddaughter of former major league manager and GM Dallas Green. Her parents and brother brought the lineup cards to home plate. Families of the victims sat near the third-base dugout. Daniel Hernandez, an intern who helped save the life of U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords during the shootings, threw out a ceremonial first pitch along with Joe Garagiola. ... Beckett warmed up to start the second but felt soreness in his left knee and didn't pitch. "If it was a regular game, I could have pitched through it," he said. ... RF Jose Bautista made a sliding catch in foul territory in the right-field corner on Brian McCann before hitting the wall feet first. ... The NL has outscored the AL 344-341. ... This was the first time the DH was used for an All-Star game in an NL ballpark. ... Even though the NL won for just the fifth time in 24 years, it holds a 42-38-2 advantage.