NEW YORK – A day that began for All-Stars with a snail's-paced parade down 6th Avenue under the blistering 1 p.m. sun finally ended more than 12 hours later, the calendar having turned to Wednesday and the National League still winless in Midsummer Classics since 1996.
The American League won the All-Star game, 4-3, in 15 innings in front of a sellout crowd of 55,632 at soon-to-be-razed Yankee Stadium when Justin Morneau scored just ahead of right fielder Corey Hart's throw on Michael Young's sacrifice fly. At four hours, 50 minutes, it was the longest All-Star game by more than an hour and the number of innings equaled the previous high, set in 1967.
Commissioner Bud Selig undoubtedly exhaled with relief. He took extreme grief in 2002 when he called the All-Star game a 7-7 tie after 11 innings because no more pitchers were available. The same was true this time. Neither team had anyone in the bullpen after the AL began the 15th with Scott Kazmir, who threw six innings and 104 pitches in a start for the Tampa Bay Rays on Sunday, and the NL went with Brad Lidge in the bottom of the inning.
Lidge, whose resurgence with the Philadelphia Phillies this season has been an inspiring story, couldn't command his breaking pitch. Morneau opened the 15th with a bloop single and Ian Kinsler was retired only because Ryan Ludwick made a diving catch. Dioner Navarro singled, J.D. Drew walked and Young drove a pitch deep enough to score Morneau.
Drew, who hit a two-run home run in the seventh, was named MVP. Drew and AL manager Terry Francona playfully suggested that Drew would have been the next pitcher. It was difficult to tell whether they were serious.
"I would have been ready," said Drew, who is in his second season as a Red Sox outfielder. "I've given (Francona) a hard time. We would have seen what happened. As it looked it like it might come to fruition, I was getting nervous to tell you the truth."
Fortunately for everyone, the All-Star game didn't quite devolve into a situation where outfielders pitched. The same thoughts were racing through minds in the NL dugout.
"I was doing Chinese arithmetic from the sixth inning on," said NL manager Clint Hurdle. "I felt like I was in Algebra class. It got wild."
Perhaps the most electrifying moment of the taut game came in the ninth inning when Mariano Rivera was called upon to pitch with one out and the score tied, 3-3. As if 466 career saves weren't enough. Or four World Series championship rings. Or sending 50,000-plus New Yorkers contentedly into the night, spring, summer and fall for 14 years.
Rivera again etched his name alongside the elite names of baseball's elite franchise, pitching 1 2/3 scoreless innings to give the AL a golden chance to win in the bottom of the 10th. But Aaron Cook pushed the game into extra innings by pitching out of a bases-loaded, no-out jam caused by second baseman Dan Uggla's two errors.
Rivera came into the game to his signature song, "Enter Sandman," struck out the first batter he faced and benefited from catcher Navarro throwing out Cristian Guzman trying to steal second. Russell Martin and Miguel Tejada singled in the ninth, but Rivera got Uggla to ground into a double play.
The AL missed another opportunity in the 11th when center fielder Nate McLouth threw out Navarro trying to score from second on Young's single. Martin, the catcher, short-hopped the throw and appeared to tag Navarro high, but umpire Derryl Cousins called him out.
So on a day when pregame hoopla involving a parade and a drawn-out ceremony prompted tears and cheers, spanned generations and drove everyone to the brink of exhaustion, the game was a marathon. And whether it is Fenway Park, Tropicana Field, Angel Stadium, U.S. Cellular Field or even Yankee Stadium, the AL representative will get home-field advantage in the World Series.
The NL took a 3-2 lead when Tejada scored on a sacrifice fly by Adrian Gonzalez in the eighth inning against Jonathan Papelbon, moments after Drew had blasted his home run for the only AL offense to that point.
But Evan Longoria, the rookie from Tampa Bay with all of 306 major-league at-bats, doubled down the left-field line with two out in the eighth against Mets left-hander Billy Wagner, scoring Grady Sizemore, who had singled and stole second. The stolen base was the sixth of the game by both teams, an All-Star record, and it had set up the tying run. Drew's steal in the 13th extended the mark to seven and was the sixth by the AL, another record.
The long game followed a long day of festivities. In a stirring pregame ceremony, the new met the old literally, handshake after handshake, All-Star after All-Star, jogging from the dugout to their positions, where they were met by Hall of Famers.
It was a drawn-out moment for the ages, with 49 former greats, from Yogi Berra and Bob Feller to Bob Gibson and Steve Carlton to Hank Aaron and Willie Mays, joining on the field with 64 of today's stars before the 79th All-Star game.
The ground they graced made it all the more special. The Hall of Famers gathered at the Monument Park plaques that honor New York Yankees who have had their uniform numbers retired, entered Yankee Stadium through the center field gate and strolled to their positions.
They are forever allowed to operate on Cooperstown time, and a full stadium and millions watching from home waited, and watched. To be fair, it already had been a long day. The Hall of Famers and All-Stars participated in an afternoon parade down 6th Avenue that attracted thousands of fans. The ballplayers sat in the hot sun with wives and parents and children in the beds of Chevy Silverados, waving to fans, who predictably cheered the Yankees, booed the Red Sox and fawned over the Hall of Famers.
By the time everyone reached the 85-year-old House That Ruth Built, it was obvious the day would test the stamina of young and old alike.
"The parade was fun, but it was hot out there," said Dan Haren, who pitched a scoreless fifth inning for the NL. "The whole day was like a dream. All those Hall of Famers, all those people, the entire city was awesome."
Once the Hall of Famers were ushered from the field, the game moved at a quick pace through four scoreless innings. Little did they know what lay ahead.
Starters Cliff Lee of the AL and Ben Sheets of the NL each pitched two sharp innings, and the relievers were impenetrable until Matt Holliday opened the fifth by driving a pitch from Ervin Santana into the right-field stands to give the NL a 1-0 lead.
The NL increased the margin in the sixth against Justin Duchscherer. Hurdle allowed the first seven batters in his lineup to hit for a third time, and it paid off. Hanley Ramirez and Chase Utley both singled with none out and Ramirez scored on a sacrifice fly to center by Lance Berkman.
"Any time you can claw another run across, it's big, especially against a team like this," said Berkman, who is enjoying a career year with the Houston Astros.
"I think the atmosphere was more focused for the NL than in years past," said Berkman, who has been an All-Star five times since 2001. "We had one of the better lineups I've seen the NL have."
Yet an inning later, Drew erased the momentum, and the lead, when he pulled a pitch by Edinson Volquez on a low line into the right-field seats. It was Drew's first All-Star at-bat.
Hours later, Drew was handed the MVP trophy to a chorus of boos from the Yankees faithful. Whether the fans wanted Rivera to be named MVP or whether they just booed a Red Sox player on principle wasn't clear.
Imagine the reaction had Drew been called upon to pitch. Or the reaction from Selig.
After nearly five hours, the game ended just in time.