KANSAS CITY – Accusations of ballot-stuffing swirled when the San Francisco Giants placed three position players in the National League’s starting lineup for the All-Star Game.
New York Mets general manager Sandy Alderson scoffed when he heard that Giants third baseman Pablo Sandoval had been voted the NL’s starting third baseman over David Wright, the Mets’ MVP candidate third baseman.
Commissioner Bud Selig even had to defend the process of fan voting at his annual address of baseball writers on Tuesday, saying, “There’s no perfect system.”
Three months from now, one AL team might argue with Selig. Three months from now, one NL team might think the system is just perfect.
With three Giants leading the way – and three Phillies chipping in – the NL rolled to a 8-0 victory over the American League in the All-Star Game at Kauffman Stadium on Tuesday night. It was the first shutout in the All-Star Game since 1996 in Philadelphia when the NL won, 6-0.
With the victory, the NL gets home-field advantage in the World Series, no small fact considering the team with home-field advantage has won 21 of the last 26 World Series.
The game ended with NL catcher Carlos Ruiz, a first-time All-Star, and reliever Jonathan Papelbon, both Phillies, shaking hands on the mound after Papelbon recorded the last out with a runner on third base to secure the shutout.
It was a sight Phillies fan hope to see often in the second half of the season. Given the Phillies’ deficit in the standings – 14 games out in the NL East – it must happen a lot if the Phils are to rescue their season from life support.
“Yeah, we need that,” Ruiz said. “We have to push the first half away. We still have the second half. We’ll see what happens.”
The NL scored five runs in the first inning against Justin Verlander, the 2011 AL MVP and Cy Young winner. Three of those runs came on a bases-loaded triple to right by Sandoval, the NL’s starting third baseman.
Three innings after Sandoval’s big hit, centerfielder Melky Cabrera, another Giant in the NL’s starting lineup, took Matt Harrison deep. Cabrera’s two-run homer gave the NL an 8-0 lead.
Cabrera was named the game’s MVP and it was a sweet honor given that he played for Kansas City last season and was traded to San Francisco in the fall. Cabrera leads the NL with 119 hits and ranks second with a .353 batting average.
“I’m very happy to be back in Kansas City,” he said. “The fans treated me well here. And the fans have treated me well in San Francisco and I thank them for voting me here.”
The NL has won three straight All-Star Games, a streak that started with Charlie Manuel at the helm in 2010.
The NL pitching staff held the AL to just six hits. Matt Cain, yet another Giant, started the game and pitched two shutout innings with San Francisco batterymate Buster Posey behind the plate.
Cain’s selection as a starter was seen as controversial in some quarters, particularly around New York. NL manager Tony La Russa picked Cain over Mets’ knuckleballer R.A. Dickey, the NL’s leading winner with 12.
Dickey pitched a scoreless sixth inning. Ruiz was his batterymate.
Ruiz, wearing an oversized mitt, was a little anxious about handling Dickey’s knuckleball, but he got through it.
“I told everyone in the bullpen this is my first All-Star Game and I have to catch a knuckleball guy,” Ruiz said with a laugh. “It’s not easy. At first I was nervous. But it was fun. I’m so happy he pitched well.”
Ruiz, who flied out in his only at-bat, caught Phillies teammate Cole Hamels in the seventh. Hamels retired all three batters he faced.
Hamels, wearing blinding, bright orange spikes, was the most unpopular guy in Kauffman Stadium when he retired hometown hero Billy Butler of the Royals on a fly ball to left to open the frame. Hamels then retired a pair of Orioles, Matt Wieters and Adam Jones. He hit 96 mph on the stadium radar gun.
“It was good to see that,” Ruiz said. “Cole threw real good.”
This was Hamels’ third All-Star Game. He made the team last year, but did not pitch. He pitched a scoreless inning in San Francisco in 2007.
With his family waiting, Hamels left the clubhouse quickly after the game. He carried under his arm a shoebox containing the garish orange spikes.
“I think David Beckham sent them to me,” Hamels joked. “I’ll put them in my locker and guys can make fun of them.”