Pitchers bring serious heat to All-Star Game

Steve Henson
David Wright is one of few players who has sported a safety helmet in an MLB game, but even he abandoned it after just a few weeks

ANAHEIM, Calif. – The radar gun flirted with triple digits, hitters wisely sought extra protection for their noggins, and it took a batter with surgically corrected eyes to catch up with a fastball and win the All-Star Game.

From American League left-hander David Price's(notes) 100-mph fastball in the first inning to National League right-hander Jonathan Broxton's(notes) 99-mph heater on the game's last pitch, speed thrilled the sellout crowd at Angels Stadium and killed most semblance of offense in the National League's 3-1 victory Tuesday night.

Price threw the only triple-digit pitch, but hitters saw more of 99 than Steve Carell did in "Get Smart." Price threw six 99-mph fastballs in the first inning. The National League's Josh Johnson(notes) hit 99 with his last two pitches in the third, and the AL's Justin Verlander(notes) was clocked at 99 mph 10 times in the fifth inning alone. Brian Wilson(notes) touched 99 twice in the eighth for the NL, as did Broxton in the ninth.

No wonder Fox broadcaster Joe Buck wondered aloud, "Does our radar gun go up to 100?"

And no wonder a handful of hitters wore oversized batting helmets. Until recently, the helmets approved by the nation's foremost sports equipment testing center were used only by batters coming off a head injury. David Wright(notes) wore the Rawlings S100 model monster helmet last season after a Matt Cain(notes) fastball gave him a concussion, but he was teased by teammates who called him the Great Gazoo. Wright went back to a conventional helmet fewer than three weeks later, saying the large one wasn't comfortable.

Six of his NL teammates and four AL players also wore the helmet. Whether it will catch on or was merely a one-time experiment in what amounts to an exhibition won’t be known until the season resumes.

According to Dave Halstead, director of the Southern Impact Testing Center in Knoxville, Tenn., conventional major league baseball helmets don't offer sufficient protection. "MLB is the only level of baseball where an approved helmet isn't mandated," Halstead said. "The one ear-flap helmet with hardly any padding on it doesn't cut it. Apparently, you aren't a really cool player unless you wear a tiny helmet covered in pine tar."

For one night, though, safety trumped cool. So did heat. The pitching was so dominant that it appeared the game would remain scoreless longer than the World Cup final. The AL eked out a run in the fifth because Hong-Chih Kuo(notes) walked a batter and made a throwing error, setting up a sacrifice fly by Robinson Cano(notes).

Only Brian McCann's(notes) three-run double off Matt Thornton's(notes) 98-mph fastball in the seventh marked a triumph for the guys wielding bats. McCann, the Atlanta Braves catcher who twice has had Lasik surgery to correct a severe nearsighted condition, delivered the blow that gave the NL its first All-Star victory since 1996 and was named MVP for that single swing.

NL manager Charlie Manuel all but called the shot from the dugout. "I told [coaches] Bruce Bochy and Bud Black that I hope they keep the ball down and hard to him. [Thornton] threw a low fastball and he clocked it."

Of course McCann was looking for a fastball. It's all anybody seemed to get.

"I sat on the fastball and tried to get my hands going a little early," he said. "I got a pitch to handle and luckily I didn't miss it."

Then he put on the catching gear and harnessed the heat of flame-throwing relievers Wilson and Broxton. All that was left was for AL manager Joe Girardi to fail to pinch-run for lumbering David Ortiz(notes) in the ninth and have right fielder Marlon Byrd(notes) throw him out at second, and the NL had broken its 14-year winless streak and gained home-field advantage in the World Series.

Whatever team advances that far is bound to do so with sufficient speed – especially from the mound.

"You see the quality of arms both teams are throwing out there on a nightly basis," McCann said. "I mean, that's why it's the year of the pitcher."