2005 All-Star Game
The 76th Midsummer Classic returned to Detroit in 2005, but those in attendance (and watching on TV) spread far beyond the boundaries of Comerica Park and the "Motor City." On the eve of this "internationally flavored" All-Star Game, Major League Baseball had announced the debut of the World Baseball Classic in which Major League players from each team would participate in a 16-country tournament in March of 2006.
The proclamation could not have come at a better time as baseball had once again found itself at odds with many of its fans. A Congressional investigation into the illegal use of Steroids, continued disputes between the players and media, as well as the sport itself being dropped as an Olympic event had left many with a bad taste in their mouths - similar to the seasons that had followed labor disputes.
One positive standout during the first half of the 2005 season was the welcome arrival of parody around the league. Similar to the NFL, Major League Baseball finally "shook up the playing field" as the perennial juggernaut known as the New York Yankees struggled to play 500-ball, yet the newly established Washington Nationals dominated their division. The refreshing change in the standings pleased everyone except Yankees fans and of course, Mr. George Steinbrenner.
The Opening Ceremonies echoed those following the events of September 11th as baseball, and ultimately the country, paid tribute to our allies in Great Britain who had suffered a deadly terrorist attack in the week previous. A giant Union Jack waved gloriously on the Jumbotron as a military brass band played their national anthem first.
Fans around the world were anxious to see what the line-ups on both sides would do especially after Monday night's CENTURY 21 Home Run Derby in which Bobby Abreu of the Philadelphia Phillies broke the record for most round-trippers after putting up twenty-four in the first round.
Most analysts agreed that both teams appeared evenly matched on the mound, but that the American League had a distinct advantage at the plate with a roster not seen since the days of Hank Aaron, Roberto Clemente and Reggie Jackson. This would later prove true as the American League went on to win its ninth Midsummer Classic in a row and its third home-field advantage ruling for the World Series. (The Nationals had not tasted victory in a Classic since 1996.)
Dominican superstar Miguel Tejada of the Baltimore Orioles got things started right away with a home run - then got the defense rolling with a Gold Glove-caliber play - and later walked away with the Ted Williams Most Valuable Player Award presented by Chevrolet. He was the fifth Latin American-born player among the last eight MVP winners and just one example of the stellar play by the American League.
With Abreu, on first base for the Nationals after a leadoff single in the first inning, Carlos Beltran knocked a scorcher off American League starter (and winning pitcher) Mark Buehrle up the middle for what appeared to be a surefire single. Immediately Tejada sprang a few feet to his left, knocked the ball down and flipped it to his Orioles teammate, Brian Roberts, while on the ground for a rally-stifling, highlight-reel double play. It would not be his last effort to end up on the "Plays of the Week" segment at ESPN.
Showing what it truly means to be a "complete player," Tejada got the scoring going with an epic solo shot off Atlanta Braves ace John Smoltz, crushing an 0-1 fastball over 436 feet into the left-field seats for his first career All-Star Game home run. World Champion Red Sox slugger David Ortiz added to the American's lead with in the third with an RBI single off the wall in right field against Roy Oswalt. Tejada returned to the plate and drove another run in that inning with an RBI fielder's choice, and Japanese outfielder Ichiro Suzuki of the Seattle Mariners kept the pressure on with a two-run single in the fourth against Livan Hernandez.
After two quality shutout innings by Buehrle, manager Terry Francona gave the ball to the Anaheim Angels ace Bartolo Colon who threw a strong third inning before yielding to Johan Santana, Matt Clement and Jon Garland. All three kept the Nationals quiet through the sixth, while their line-up continued to wreak havoc on their opponent's pitchers.
Batting righty, switch-hitting, first baseman Mark Teixeira of Texas Rangers slammed an opposite-field, two-run home run off Dontrelle Willis, who was in the middle of an epic season. Surprisingly, Teixeira was leading the league at the All-Star break with 25 round-trippers, but every one of them had been hit left-handed.
It was just one example of the modern day "Murderers' Row" that sported the AL logo and included the league's Most Valuable Player, Vladimir Guerrero, and Alex Rodriguez, who was an annual 50-homer threat.
Even though the Americans had built an early lead, the game still managed to provide a few dramatic moments such as when the host-team Tigers staged a moving video tribute to their longtime, Hall of Fame radio man Ernie Harwell which was met with a standing ovation.
In stark contrast, cheers turned to boo's after the door to the AL bullpen opened for baseball's newest "Public Enemy #1", Kenny Rogers, the Texas Rangers pitcher who caused controversy and garnered a 20-game suspension after a recent physical confrontation with television cameramen.
Justice was served though after Rogers was tattooed by the Braves' Andruw Jones, the Major League leader in homers at the All-Star break with 27. The blast cut the American League's lead to 7-2.
Things continued to favor the Nationals in the eighth when Miguel Cabrera hit an RBI fielder's choice off Joe Nathan to make it 7-3, and his teammates added two more in the ninth on a Luis Gonzalez double against B.J. Ryan and a Carlos Lee fielder's choice.
Just as things were starting to get interesting, enter "The Sandman", closing legend Mariano Rivera of the New York Yankees, who proceeded to step atop the mound and throw three blazing cutters for the final out and a 7-5 victory. It was his second All-Star save.
In the end, there was no denying the domination of the American League who were more likely to produce runs at six of the nine offensive positions. (The Nationals still led overall in the contest from their own stretch of dominance from the mid-1960s into the early 1980s.)
The following day, one reporter captured the essence of the 2005 Midsummer Classic. He wrote, "There is no overstating how good this (American League) lineup was. It looked like it was drawn up, not by a manager, but by a higher power, an entity with even more sweeping powers than the Commissioner."