Urban: Bay Ball, All-Star style

Urban: Bay Ball, All-Star style
July 13, 2011, 4:09 am
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July 12, 2011

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Mychael Urban
CSNBayArea.com

PHOENIX -- With Matt Cain unavailable to pitch because he worked Sunday, Tim Lincecum unofficially on the shelf in the name of second-half strength, and Ryan Vogelsong tapped as one of the pitchers saved in the event of extra innings, Brian Wilson and Pablo Sandoval were the only Giants who figured to appear in Tuesday's MLB All-Star Game at Chase Field, and that's exactly how it worked out.It worked out well, too.

Sandoval, a late addition to the National League squad, took over for starting third baseman Scott Rolen and spanked an opposite-field, RBI double into the left-field corner off American League reliever Brandon League in the bottom of the seventh inning to stretch the NL's lead to 5-1. Standing at second base as the crowd roared its approval, Sandoval looked skyward, shook his head and smiled wide while clapping his hands together several times.It was a great image and exactly what the Midsummer Classic should be all about. Forget home-field advantage for the World Series. Forget the no-shows. Give the fans a young man who clearly loves what he's doing and does it well, the mission has been accomplished.Wilson's appearance, complete with bright orange glove and gaudy cleats emblazoned with his own image to match, came with an appropriate dose of drama. Called upon with runners at second and third with one out in the top of the ninth, the opportunity to close out an NL victory that he so craved, he induced a popup to shallow right field before getting Paul Konerko to ground out to shortstop and pick up the save.No torture here. Gio gets in, out: Lefty Gio Gonzalez, the lone member of the A's named to the AL squad, wasn't quite sure if he'd get to make an appearance, but he got his chance in the bottom of the eighth inning, and if you blinked you missed it.Working quickly, no doubt the result of a torrent of adrenaline coursing through his body, Gonzalez fell behind in the count to Jay Bruce before getting back to full count and freezing the Reds slugger with some serious paint on the black to end the inning.Trying to play it cool in front of his mostly older peers, Gonzalez kept his head down while walking to the AL dugout, but upon seeing a collection of superstars waiting at the top step to congratulate him, he broke into the boyish grin with which Oakland fans are so familiar.Gonzo gets gone: Hands-down the American League's mythical first-half MVP, Adrian Gonzalez was the cover-story subject of USA Today's sports section Tuesday, highlighting his seamless transition from relative anonymity in San Diego to playing in the white-hot spotlight that shines on all things Boston Red Sox. Gonzalez hasn't just handled the additional pressure and attention; he's welcomed it and thrived.Or so he said in the story. Then, a night after putting on a show in the Home Run Derby despite finishing second to Robinson Cano, he made sure that anyone who didn't see the story understands exactly what he's all about, taking Cliff Lee deep to open the All-Star scoring. It seems like Gonzalez has been around forever, but he's not even 30, storming into the prime of his career, and given that he'll spend much of it at Fenway Park, it's not a stretch to assume we're watching a no-doubt Hall of Famer at work.Awwwwwwkward: Nobody will admit to it, but it had to be a little strange for the Giants in the NL dugout when Prince Fielder went deep. It gave the senior circuit the lead, and of course the Giants would like to have home-field advantage should they return to the World Series this fall. So congratulations were definitely in order. A high-five or a pound at the least.But if you made a list of the Giants' least-favorite foes, Fielder -- thanks to his bowling pin act and a generally surly vibe -- would likely be near the top of the list.Medicine for the nerves: Wilson referred to Phillies righty Doc Halladay, who started for the NL, as a "cyborg," and that's as apt a description of the man as any. That's why he was the perfect pick to start the game.Even the best players in the world get nervous before the All-Star Game, and pitchers can get particularly sketchy in the early going, setting a sloppy tone. Not Halladay, who appears at most times to indeed be without a central nervous system. His stoic, calming presence on the mound puts everyone at ease, and with two perfect innings Tuesday, he gave everyone time to settle in and get ready for some quality baseball. It's no coincidence that the game got more interesting as the innings wore on.Giving it up: Among the distinctions between baseball's showcase and the all-star games of other sports is that baseball's participants actually try to play a little defense. In fact, many of them are known for their defensive skills, and it's nice to see them commit to putting them on display. Rolen, for instance, turned in a heck of a spinning play at third base early in the game.It's a fine line, though. The last thing anyone wants to see is someone getting hurt trying to go above and beyond, and that was a real concern when Toronto slugger Jose Bautista crashed into the wall down the right-field line while making a tremendous sliding catch. Guys have snapped ankles on similar plays. Fortunately, Bautista bounced right up, and everyone associated with the Blue Jays franchise surely exhaled with relief and thought, "Dude, leave the foul balls be. We like you hitting homers more than making web gems."Ah, but Bautista wasn't done scaring his bosses. He was sent home from second on a two-out single in the fourth and cut down at the plate. The throw from Hunter Pence beat him by a mile, but Bautista knew better than to get all Pete Rose on NL catcher Brian McCann, and everyone went their separate ways in one piece. Panic in the press box: The Red Sox weren't so fortunate on the health front, as Josh Beckett was scratched from his scheduled appearance after his knee acted up while he warmed up in the bullpen. Hopefully it's nothing serious, but it did provide for anyone covering the game evidence that baseball in Boston is more than a game. It's life and death.There's no such thing as a small story, and Beckett being scratched was a big one. One look around the press box and you knew exactly who was there from New England: the folks wearing marks of major worry.Welcome to me: While the absence of some of the game's biggest names -- Derek Jeter, Albert Pujols, etc. -- generated considerable discussion in the days leading up to the game, none of that mattered as soon as Halladay threw his first pitch, at which point the focus shifted to where it belonged. And as usual, some names that casual fans might not have known emerged as worthy of discussion.One such name: Michael Pineda. A 22-year-old righty for the Mariners who has 113 strikeouts in 113 innings -- he struck out two in his perfect inning of work -- issued notice to anyone unaware that the Seattle starting rotation goes deeper than King Felix Hernandez. Pineda, a rookie, is the real deal.Colorful closer: Heath Bell of the Padres, who fully expects to be traded before the July 31 deadline, on Monday vowed to do something special if he were given an opportunity to appear in the game. He didn't disappoint, sprinting in from the bullpen and launching his 6-foot-3, 260-pound frame into a slide just before getting to the mound. It drew a huge laugh from the crowd and served as a brilliant reminder of something too few big leaguers seem to forget when they reach the pinnacle: The game is supposed to be fun.