One Strike Away

But then you think about this some more. You think that three years ago, another southern California closer -- Eric Gagne -- had roared into an All-Star Game with no blown saves in 31 chances. Eric Gagne then gave up a game-losing home run to another infielder from Texas, a guy named Hank Blalock.

So it's almost spooky that on another All-Star Tuesday in 2006, another infielder from Texas pulled another game-winning magic trick out of a very similar bag.

"I know a lot of great players have played in the All-Star Game. I know a lot of great players have won an MVP in the All-Star Game. I know even more great players didn't win an MVP in the All-Star Game. So this really is a humbling experience. And to do it against a guy like [Trevor Hoffman], who I respect so much, who's about to break the all-time saves record -- it just makes it a little more special." Michael YoungAsked if he'd heard from Blalock yet, Young chuckled: "Well, I haven't checked my phone yet. But someone might have called, though."

Yeah, someone.

Thanks to Blalock then, thanks to Young now, thanks to two blown saves by closers who had blown a total of one save in 56 other chances, the American League has somehow gone a full decade without losing an All-Star Game. That's the second-longest streak in history (behind an 11-year streak by the NL from 1972-82).

And if the NL couldn't win this game, you have to wonder if it will win another one in this century.

Before the ninth, a spectacular assemblage of AL firepower had gotten a piddly four hits all night. They'd brought precisely one hitter to the plate all game with a runner in scoring position. They'd failed to get two hits in any inning, against seven different NL pitchers.

And now the best relief pitcher in the National League, one of the most efficient closers who ever threw a baseball, was going to finish them off.

But in the AL dugout, where 20 players still stood on the top step, Derek Jeter was pulling out his Ouija Board.

"I called it," Jeter would say later. "Ask anybody around me. I called it even before we got anybody on base. I said, 'Michael Young is going to win this game.' "

Was this, he was asked, because Jeter was ready to go to work for the Psychic Hotline?

"Nah," he said. "It's because I've seen him hit."

Oh. But he wasn't going to hit here unless somebody got on. Two somebodies, to be exact. Those two somebodies had to give Michael Young a shot.

The first two hitters, Jermaine Dye and Miguel Tejada, went down faster than you could say, "See ya in Queens for the seventh game of the World Series." But then it was Paul Konerko's turn.

All Konerko did was thunk a fastball on the hands toward third base. All he did was hit what felt like a routine "5-3" putout in your program. When the ball left his bat, in fact, Konerko thought: Game over.

But then he looked up to see the third baseman, Miguel Cabrera, guarding the line. And the baseball hopped on through the left side.

It would turn into one of the most important hits of Konerko's career. But all it really was, he'd say later, "was just luck."

"Hey, 20 years from now," said his locker-room neighbor, A.J. Pierzynski, "he'll be telling his kids he hit it so hard, he almost knocked Cabrera down."

"Twenty years from now?" Konerko laughed. "How about two days from now?"

Should they really have been guarding that line? Even Hoffman wouldn't second-guess his manager for a day, Phil Garner.

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