ANAHEIM, Calif. -- A recipe more closely guarded than that of Coca-Cola was revealed on a hot Southern California night with the landscape shifting, the baseball world mourning the death of Yankees owner George Steinbrenner and the Rally Monkey desperately hopping in the background all the while.
What does it take for the National League to win an All-Star Game?
And the sizzling heat of nine other pitchers.
Take a bow, Matt Capps. In earning the victory in the NL's 3-1 streak-stopper and for your work in helping Roy Halladay escape a murky sixth inning, you're the first winning pitcher for the NL in one of these Midsummer Classics since John Smoltz in 1996.
"That's what I'm talking about," said Rolen in regard to the pitching heat the NL brought with it in 2010. "You throw Ubaldo Jimenez out there. Halladay didn't even get out there until the sixth inning" -- and here, Rolen couldn't help but fire a good-natured zinger at his old teammate -- "and he couldn't even finish it.
"That's a tough rotation for them to come up against. And they, obviously, threw some great pitchers out there.
"We didn't think it would be a 13-1 game."
Whatever the score, the NL will take it. A 13-year winless streak snapped, home-field advantage secured in the World Series for the first time since 2001 ... you would expect champagne and ticker-tape at a moment like this.
Instead, it all started with a motivational pre-game speech from manager Charlie Manuel. Which, given the way he botched the pronunciations of a handful of names on his roster with his thick West Virginia drawl a day earlier, is always a dangerous thing.
Was there, um, cursing?
"Oh, I don't know," the wry Rolen said. "It's kind of our culture. I only notice it at home."
"Charlie's interesting, man," said Atlanta's Hudson, an Alabama native. "I might have been the only one in here who could understand him.
"He just said the players in here are good, we know how to play the game, now let's go win this son of a bitch."
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"He told us he was a hitting coach 12 years ago on the AL team when Joe Torre was the manager," Padres closer Heath Bell said. "He said when Joe was talking, Ichiro Suzuki came out of nowhere and said, 'Let's go kick their ass.'
"He said, 'Well, now I'm going to say it: Let's go kick their ass!'"
Then, this turned into everything the All-Star Game should be: Close game, late innings, memorable moments, players in both dugouts holding their breath.
There was Rolen, all of 35, and with three shoulder surgeries on the back of his baseball card, breaking from first with one out in the seventh on Matt Holliday's single up the middle with the NL trailing 1-0 ... and then suddenly turning on the jet stream as he approached second, zooming into third and crash-landing safely into the bag with a cringe-inducing head-first slide.
"It was kind of a hard landing," Rolen said. "It may have been a gamble. I gave it a shot. What have you got to lose? You try to do the right thing."
Which, to the blue-collar Rolen, was simply following one of the most basic tenets of the game: Base hit, get your butt from first to third.
"I'm competing," Rolen said. "That's the way the game played itself out. You look at games and what's called for at the time.
"When we start up again Thursday, if that play is called for, I'll do it again."
There was the Cubs' Byrd two batters later, one out and runners on the corners, battling White Sox reliever Matt Thornton for an eight-pitch walk, fighting back from 0-2 and fouling off two pitches at 3-2.
"In the American League, everybody knows that with two strikes they throw up and try to make you chase," said Byrd, who played in Texas' outfield last year. "I know the scouting report. ... My whole thought process was to lay off that one."
There was the Braves' McCann stepping up next, bases loaded, drilling an 0-1, 98 mph fastball far over the head of Jose Bautista for a three-run double.
"I've been seeing him get big hits for the last three years," Hudson gushed. "I'm really happy for him."
|Marlon Byrd's heads-up play in the ninth inning typifies the NL's solid effort. (AP)|
No big deal, except for the little fact that one month ago, Wainwright faced Wells for the first time in Toronto, and Wells blistered him for two home runs.
So that was Wells' career line coming in against Wainwright: 2 for 2, with two home runs.
You better believe that's what the Cardinals righty was thinking about as he walked the high-wire attempting to help deliver the NL an historic victory.
"It's hard to get that out of your brain," Wainwright said.
So, two out, runners at the corners, local hero Torii Hunter at the plate, 45,408 screaming for an heroic Angel moment. And bam!, Wainwright finished the inning with a four-pitch whiff, including nearly spinning Hunter's head fully around with as wicked a curve you'll ever see for a called strike one.
"It was one of the highlights of my career, really," Wainwright said. "It was so much fun.
"And to do it for a team that hasn't won for awhile ... I know it was only the seventh inning, but it felt like I was closing something out for a postseason series. I fed off of it. Those situations I really, really like."
That still wasn't all.
There was Byrd in right field in the ninth, still 3-1, one out and hulking David Ortiz on first, John Buck rifling a sure single to right so hard that a charging Byrd somehow snagged it on the hop, whirled, threw blindly to second base and ... bingo.
Suddenly, Buck's base hit became a simple, routine 9-6 fielder's choice, Ortiz gunned out at second, two out and game just about over. Routine? Ha. Byrd was playing "no doubles" -- deep, so nothing would be hit over his head to give Ortiz the chance to score -- and that's why he had great momentum coming forward.
He played the ball off to his side for a reason, too.
"So I could spin and throw," Byrd said. "Basically, it was a blind throw. You're not even looking."
Seriously. He didn't even know where Ortiz was on the base path. He just sensed it.
"I wasn't watching him," Byrd said. "I didn't see him. It was either dive [attempting to make the catch], or let it hop and spin and fire."
Yes, everything an All-Star Game should be. For all of those half-baked efforts that led to Commissioner Bud Selig's "This Time It Counts" All-Star dictum, this is a generation of players who seem to get it.
"I'm a believer in that we come here as the best players in the NL and the best players in the AL in that year, or that year and last year," Rolen said. "You got here by playing well and competing at the highest level. I'm a big believer in you come here to compete at the highest level.
"If you're going to walk out on that field in front of how many people, with your peers and your colleagues, and go through the motions, maybe you shouldn't be here. Maybe you're not an All-Star."
The rosters may have been bloated on Tuesday -- 34 active players for each league and, including injuries and replacements, a total of 82 players named as All-Stars -- but these were All-Stars.
And this is what the All-Star Game still can deliver ... up to, and including, a surprise ending.
"Hey man, I'm undefeated in the All-Star Game -- 3-0," crowed Hudson, an AL Star in 2000 and 2004. "I don't even need to pitch. I just need to be in the clubhouse."
And in the end, really, what better place than the home of the Rally Monkey for the NL to toss that 13-year monkey off its own back?