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All- Star Game: NL could use big hits

AL has not lost Midsummer Classic since 1996

Philadelphia's Ryan Howard won the Home Run Derby on Monday in Pittsburgh and the National League needs a power display from Howard and other sluggers tonight to end an All-Star Game losing streak to the American League.

Philadelphia's Ryan Howard won the Home Run Derby on Monday in Pittsburgh and the National League needs a power display from Howard and other sluggers tonight to end an All-Star Game losing streak to the American League.

PITTSBURGH – Here we are at another Midsummer Classic, where the competition is fierce, the stakes high, and without question everyone is trying their absolute hardest to win.

But enough about the Home Run Derby.

Everyone would like tao win the All-Star Game, too, but the annual question is, how badly?

It is an especially warm theme for tonight, given the recent National League flogging. The 0-8-1 All-Star record since 1996. The 98-154 mashing in this season’s interleague play. The past two World Series sweeps, which began in American League parks because of All-Star Game results.

Had enough, National Leaguers? The NL’s manager has.

Phil Garner spoke Monday of the good old days, when the National League clubhouse was filled with Pete Rose and other cold-hearted warriors who took losing as an affront. Catchers were run over if needed, second baseman knocked flat to prevent the double play. And it was a given the top stars would be in most or all of the game.

“It was played like it was the last game of the World Series,” said Garner, who claimed he has detected a more serious approach from the American League in recent years.

“We’re tired of getting beat. To me the task this year is, let’s get that sense of pride back in the National League.”

One of his predecessors seconded the motion, sounding aghast at what has happened to his old league.

“I managed in this game four times,” Tommy Lasorda said, “and when I talked to the players in the clubhouse, I told them we weren’t here to pat people on the back and get them in the game. We were here to try to beat the American League’s butts.”

The baseball All-Star Game is among the most enduring paradoxes in sport. Nobody seems to agree on what it should be, so it remains part competition, part dog and pony show. Baseball wishes for something higher, so World Series’ home field advantage is again on the table.

“I found out painfully last year that home field is an advantage in the World Series,” said Houston’s Garner, the sweepee of the White Sox’s 4-0 run.

Various National Leaguers seemed bemused Monday that anyone would think they’d ever play a game not caring if they won.

“I see guys playing chess and cards in the clubhouse who get upset when they lose,” said Paul Lo Duca of the New York Mets.

“If you took these guys and put them in the park on Sunday to play a softball game, they’d bust their butts to win. If they don’t, they probably wouldn’t be on this level,” said Nomar Garciaparra of the Los Angeles Dodgers.

“Ultimately we’re representing ourselves, and we don’t want to embarrass ourselves,” said the Mets’ Tom Glavine. “I would find it hard to believe they want to win anymore than we do. They’ve just come out and played better than we have.”

Besides, the National League does not have the corner on players who take the All-Star Game lightly. Boston’s Manny Ramirez, the American League’s top vote-getter, bailed on this year’s event, claiming his knee was too sore. Sunday, he played 19 innings for the Red Sox.

Maybe the American League just has the horses at the moment. But whatever it is – talent, attitude, luck, phase of the moon – the National Leaguers appear inferior from any angle. If they hate losing as much as they say, the current numbers should sting like a jellyfish.

Tonight is an exhibition, made for individual stories.

For my dough, the best is Kenny Rogers. One year after he was booed in the All-Star Game as a controversial invitee following his cameraman-shoving tantrum, he is back as a respected elder statesman, leader of the Detroit Tigers’ revival, and the American League starting pitcher at 41. A remarkable trip of 180 degrees.

But today is a test of mettle, too, at least for the National League.

“We would certainly like to win,” said the Astros’ Lance Berkman. “But I doubt if many guys are going to lose sleep if we don’t.”

Probably shouldn’t mention that to Phil Garner. Or Tommy Lasorda.


Remember that nice little 24-2-1 streak the National League went on against the American League from 1959-82? Those days are long gone. The AL hasn’t lost since 1996:

2005: 7-5

2004: 9-4

2003: 7-6

2002: 7-7, 11 innings

2001: 4-1

2000: 6-3

1999: 4-1

1998: 13-8

1997: 3-1

Note: From 1959-62, two All-Star games were played each year.

> More baseball inside, Pages 4-5C


American League at National League
● Today: 5 p.m.

● TV, radio: Fox; 1490-AM

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