An eventful All-Star win for Nats

An eventful All-Star win for Nats
July 11, 2012, 5:16 am
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KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Sure, there was that routine flyball Bryce Harper never saw amid the Kansas City twilight, a botched play that will show up on All-Star blooper reels for decades to come.

"It didn't hit me in the head," Harper cracked. "So I think I'm doing OK."

He's doing more than OK. So what if the 19-year-old's first All-Star Game was less than his finest hour on a baseball field? Those few hiccups paled in comparison to his overall experience over a whirlwind 48 hours.

And considering teammates Stephen Strasburg and Gio Gonzalez did their part to help lead the National League to an 8-0 drubbing of the American League in the 83rd Midsummer Classic -- thus ensuring home-field advantage for the NL champion in this year's World Series -- there wasn't much anyone wearing a curly W cap could be upset about at the end of the night.

"That's huge for any team that's in there, and hopefully it's us," Harper said. "But we're a long ways away. We're in first place right now, but we've got a long season ahead of us. ... Hopefully we can keep it going in the second half, in the playoffs, and keep it going deep into October and November."

What would have been a ludicrous notion during any of the previous six All-Star Games was very much a factor during this exhibition at Kauffman Stadium. Thanks to Tuesday night's NL victory, Game 1 of the World Series cannot be held at Yankee Stadium. But it could be held at Nationals Park.

"No comment on that one," Gonzalez said with an impish grin. "I'm just going to smile about it and wave. That's it."

If the previously unthinkable does happen, the Nationals can thank a surprisingly explosive NL lineup that scored five runs off Justin Verlander in the top of the first and then added three more off Matt Harrison in the top of the fourth.

But they can also thank their co-aces, who each churned out a scoreless inning of relief to aid the over cause. Gonzalez and Strasburg aren't used to pitching out of the bullpen, and the sight of the two of them watching the game's first two innings from behind the right field fence was odd.

Once each hurler reached the mound, it was all business. Gonzalez cruised through the bottom of the third, retiring the side on 11 pitches and striking out Mike Napoli on a wicked curveball. Strasburg followed him in the bottom of the fourth, and though he surrendered a leadoff single to Robinson Cano and then issued a two-out walk to Jose Bautista, he emerged unscathed thanks to a double-play grounder off Josh Hamilton's bat and a lineout to left from Prince Fielder.

Cano. Hamilton. Bautista. Fielder. That's as fearsome a foursome as any pitcher can face in succession in today's game. Not that Strasburg was daunted by it.

"I love the challenge," he said. "It was great. Gio finished up a good inning, and I knew I was going to be going in there facing the middle of the lineup guys. It was great to get the opportunity to face them. Me being in the National League, I don't know when I'll be able to face them again."

Moments after Strasburg finished his one inning of work, Harper stepped to the plate for the first time, in the process becoming the youngest position player ever to appear in an All-Star Game. His evening got off to a positive start when he drew a walk off Harrison and then tagged up from first base on a flyout to deep left field.

Then things began to turn sour for the rookie outfielder. He was caught in a rundown off second base. He struck out looking at an 0-2 pitch from Athletics rookie Ryan Cook in the seventh inning. And, of course, there was that mishap in left field, with Harper throwing his arms out in confusion as Napoli's routine fly ball landed 10 feet behind him.

It wasn't the first time that's happened to Harper. He misplayed a similar ball in right field in Cincinnati earlier this season.

"Nothing you could do about it," he said with a shrug. "It happens. I wasn't really bummed out. I don't even care. It's going to happen probably 40 more times in my career, so ... whatever."

Harper's final boxscore line will show he went 0-for-1 with a walk and a strikeout. It won't show the misplayed fly ball. It also won't show all the fun he had meeting George Brett and Frank Robinson and hanging out with Chipper Jones and receiving words of wisdom from Tony La Russa.

That, in the end, is what Harper will remember most. Along with the feeling of pride he experienced when he stood along the third-base line, next to Strasburg and Gonzalez, introduced for the first time as an All-Star.

"I think that's when it started sinking in a little bit," he said. "It was a lot of fun to come out and be able to be around here and be around the best guys in baseball and really take it in."