ST. LOUIS -- World Series champions change. Stadiums change. Stars of the game change.
Baseball's All-Star Game winner is always the same.
On a night to savor defense and relief pitching, Carl Crawford pulled back a home run with a leaping grab an inning before Curtis Granderson tripled and scored the tiebreaking run in the eighth inning. That boosted the American League to a 4-3 victory Tuesday night at new Busch Stadium, its seventh straight win since the All-Star Game has been used to determine home-field advantage for the World Series.
"We came here on a mission and the mission was accomplished," said Mariano Rivera, who pitched a 1-2-3 ninth for his record fourth All-Star save, breaking a tie with Dennis Eckersley.
The home-field advantage innovation began after 2002's 7-7, 11-inning tie at Milwaukee. The AL is 12-0-1 since its 1996 defeat at Philadelphia -- the longest unbeaten streak in All-Star history.
"It is so important to get home-field advantage in the World Series," said Tampa Bay's Joe Maddon, the AL manager. "So there was a lot on the line there today."
Not even President Barack Obama's ceremonial first pitch helped the NL, which had been 4-0 previously when sitting presidents threw out the first offering. The NL scored all its runs in the second inning, and 22 of its last 24 batters made out.
Despite starting the World Series on the road last year, Philadelphia beat the Rays in five games for the title. Jayson Werth, who ran down Justin Morneau's drive to deep left-center off Francisco Rodriguez to end the ninth, took solace from that.
"Hopefully, we'll get a chance to overcome that obstacle again this year," he said.
Crawford entered with a pinch single in the fifth and jumped at the 8-foot left-field wall to snare Brad Hawpe's leadoff drive in the seventh off winner Jonathan Papelbon, which would have put the NL ahead 4-3.
For the NL, that was typical. Somehow, it finds a way to lose.
"I still don't think there's a good answer for it," Hawpe said.
Crawford became the first non-pitcher to win the MVP with no RBI since Willie Mays in 1968.
"It's definitely probably my best catch I've ever made," Crawford said. "I didn't think it was going to carry that far. But it carried and I just tried to find the wall and was able to jump up and make a play on it."
Granderson then hit a one-out triple in the eighth against Heath Bell that landed off the bottom of the left-field wall. The drive went over Justin Upton, normally a right fielder, who took a bit of a circuitous route. Bell, the loser, intentionally walked Victor Martinez, and Jones followed with a fly to deep right.
Maddon credited "these stallions in the bullpen" after Papelbon, Joe Nathan and Rivera finished a five-hitter.
"I'm used to seeing it. I've been seeing it for 17 years now," Derek Jeter, Rivera's Yankee teammate, said. "Nothing he does surprises me."
Starting with Hanley Ramirez's groundout off starter Roy Halladay that ended the second, AL pitchers retired 18 consecutive batters before Adrian Gonzalez's two-out walk in the eighth against Nathan. Orlando Hudson singled and, with pinch-hitter Ryan Howard at the plate, stole second before Howard struck out on a pitch in the dirt.
"I got caught off-guard," said Howard, a St. Louis native. "He threw me a slider, and I couldn't hold up."
Given a 40-second ovation before the game by adoring red-clad Cardinals fans in the sellout crowd of 46,760, Albert Pujols went 0 for 3 in six innings, made an error at first base in a two-run first and made some nice defensive plays. He made diving stops on Jeter and Mark Teixeira in the fifth, throwing out Ichiro Suzuki at second from his knees after Jeter's grounder.
"It was great. You put it all together, hosting the All-Star Game here in the place that you play with the fans and everybody, and a special presence by the president," Pujols said. "It was almost getting to the point where I got a little bit emotional."
Wearing sneakers, jeans and a jacket of his home state White Sox, Obama shook hands with 88-year-old Hall of Famer Stan Musial and went to the mound for the first pitch. The lanky president stood on the pitching rubber and threw left-handed from a windup. Biting his lip, he was determined to reach the plate. And he did with the help of Pujols, who moved up and scooped up the ball as Obama responded with a left-handed fist pump.
With the All-Star game back in St. Louis for the first time since the NL won 2-1 in 10 innings across the street at old Busch Stadium in 1966, the AL broke on top 2-0 in the first against Tim Lincecum with the help of an error by Pujols, who allowed Teixeira's one-out bouncer with two on to bounce away. Jeter came around from second on the error, and Josh Hamilton hit a two-out RBI grounder.
"To be honest with you, I was feeling a lot of nerves out there," said Lincecum, who missed last year's game at old Yankee Stadium when he was hospitalized with flulike symptoms.
The NL went ahead 3-2 in the second against Halladay with four straight two-out hits. The Cardinals' Yadier Molina had an RBI single, and another run scored when Hamilton's throw from center field to third bounced off the sliding Shane Victorino for an error that allowed Victorino to score. Prince Fielder, winner of Monday's Home Run Derby, batted for Halladay and lined an opposite-field double down the left-field line.
The AL has come from behind in four straight games.
"I think it's just the guys that put on the uniform -- they want to win," Mauer said. "They don't give up. We always know we have a good chance of winning."
- John F. Kennedy (1962 first game), Richard Nixon (1970) and Gerald Ford (1976 and 1978) also threw out first pitches.
- Tim Wakefield, at 42 years, 346 days the oldest first-time All-Star since Satchel Paige was 46 in 1952, didn't get into the game. He was held back as a potential AL pitcher for extra innings.
- With four straight one-run victories, the AL matched the All-Star record for consecutive one-run games, set by the NL from 1965-68, and narrowed its deficit against the senior circuit to 40-38-2.
- It was the first All-Star Game without a home run since 1999 at Boston's Fenway Park. And at 2 hours, 31 minutes, it was the fastest since 1988.
- AL pitchers came within two of the All-Star record for consecutive outs, set by the NL in 1968.
- The eight strikeouts were the fewest since 1962 (first game).