SAN FRANCISCO -- Can Jim Leyland please manage in the All-Star Game every year? The Tigers manager put on a clinic on how to play to win in the Midsummer Classic on Tuesday, leading the AL to a thrilling 5-4 victory and extending the Senior Circuit's misery to 11 consecutive winless games.
Leyland set the tone early by having his top two pitchers -- Dan Haren and Josh Beckett -- give him two innings each. By the time another pitcher had to come into the game for the AL, Leyland had the lead at 2-1 and would not relinquish it the rest of the way.
In the ninth inning, with J.J. Putz imploding and the AL's 5-2 lead cut to 5-4, Leyland made the tough call of taking out the Seattle reliever in mid-inning -- always a mildly embarrassing thing in an All-Star setting, especially for a dominant closer. Frankie Rodriguez came in and got the final out, though not without drama, walking two batters before getting Aaron Rowand to fly out. (Life can be tough without Mariano Rivera around, huh?)
Speaking of Rowand, what exactly was he doing at the plate with the bases loaded and the tying run at third base and two outs in the ninth? With all due respect to the overachieving Phillies outfielder, he shouldn't have been put in that position with the game hanging in the balance. At least not with Albert Pujols still on the bench and available to pinch-hit.
But NL manager Tony La Russa didn't want to make that tough call of pulling Rowand out of the on-deck circle in favor of the league's most feared hitter. When asked after the game why he didn't pinch-hit Pujols for Rowand, La Russa said he needed to keep the versatile Pujols available for extra innings because of his ability to play multiple positions. It's not the worst excuse for losing a one-run game with your best hitter never getting an at-bat, but it's not a good one, either. What La Russa didn't give enough weight to is the possibility that if he had allowed Pujols to bat, extra innings might not have been necessary at all. Pujols wasn't happy with the decision, either.
With that in mind, let's start the 2007 All-Star Game grading with the managers of each league:
AL Manager Jim Leyland: A+
NL Manager Tony La Russa: D-
American League Grades | National League Grades
1. Ichiro Suzuki, center field, 3-3, 1 R, 2 RBIs, SB, HR
Ichiro provided the signature moment of this All-Star week with the first inside-the-park home run in the history of the Midsummer Classic. He added two more hits and a stolen base to wrap up MVP honors.
2. Derek Jeter, shortstop, 1-3
He killed a rally in the first inning by grounding into a double play with Ichiro on first base, got a hit in the third inning but was stranded. We were also treated to a special, All-Star edition of "Pasta-Diving Jeter" when he shockingly failed to get to Ken Griffey Jr.'s RBI single up the middle.(Please note sarcasm.)
3. David Ortiz, first base, 0-2
Quiet night for Big Papi as he reached on an error after hitting into The Shift in the first inning and lined out to right in the third.
4. Alex Rodriguez, third base, 1-3
Typical A-Rod -- even when he does something right, things somehow don't work out. After reaching on a single and stealing second base in the fourth inning, Rodriguez foolishly tried to score from second on a line-drive base hit to right field. He was gunned down by 10 feet on a sterling throw by Griffey.
5. Vladimir Guerrero, right field, 0-3
Is the Home Run Derby curse already at work? Vlad lost his rematch with Brad Penny, whom he homered off in last year's All-Star Game in Pittsburgh, when he broke his bat on a 95 mph Penny offering. Hitless in three at-bats.
6. Magglio Ordonez, left field, 0-2
The major-league leader in batting average went hitless. He must be saving the baseknocks for the real games.
7. Ivan Rodriguez, catcher, 1-2
His bid for an RBI in the fourth inning was cut down by Griffey's throw to the plate to nail A-Rod.
8. Placido Polanco, second base, 0-1
Only got one plate appearance.
Carl Crawford: Did you think he was just a speed guy? This guy has power, too. His home run in the sixth inning to the deepest part of AT&T Park is evidence enough.
Victor Martinez: He salted the game away witha two-run homer off Billy Wagner in the eighth inning to expand the AL's lead to 5-2. Of course, there are those who thought Martinez should have been the starter in place of Pudge anyway.
Dan Haren, 2.0 IP, 2 H, 1 ER, 1 BB, 2 K
The A's ace had decent stuff, spotting his fastball at 93 and 94 mph, but he got burned on two sharp grounders up the middle, the first by Jose Reyes to lead off the innng and then the RBI single by Griffey. Haren's best pitch was a filthy 94 mph heater, tailing away, to blow away Carlos Beltran, followed closely by the changeup he threw to strike out Miguel Cabrera and end the second inning.
Josh Beckett, Win, 2.0 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 2 K
He was dealt a tough break when Reyes reached on a bad-hop double but then got through a murderer's row of Barry Bonds, Beltran and Griffey in order. He kept the NL at bay for two innings to earn the win.
C.C. Sabathia, 1 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 0 K
His only blemish was allowing Reyes' third hit of the game.
Justin Verlander, 1 IP, 2 H, 1 ER, 0 BB, 2 K
When you throw 99 mph and you don't spot your pitches well, this is what happens: line drives all over the park. Beltran roped a triple to lead off the inning and came home on a sac fly. Verlander escaped further damage when Justin Morneau stopped a line drive to first base by Matt Holliday.
Johan Santana, 1 IP, 0 H, 0 ER, 0 BB, 2 K
He looked so good, I'm sure Leyland was tempted to just leave him in to finish the game. He needed only 10 pitches, throwing nine of them for strikes.
Jonathan Papelbon, 1 IP, 1 H, 0 ER, 0 BB, 2 K
Just another day at the office for the Boston fireman.
J.J. Putz, 2/3 IP, 2 H, 2 ER, 1 BB, 1 K
Closing out All-Star Game isn't as easy as Mariano Rivera has made it look recently, huh?
Francisco Rodriguez, 1/3 IP, 0 R, 0 H, 2 BB, 0 K
Who else wanted to see a K-Rod vs. Pujols matchup with everything on the line?