PHOENIX — Heath Bell sprinted in from the bullpen and slid across the infield grass, tearing up the turf just short of the mound. It was that type of night: The National League never stopped moving.
“I told some guys I wanted to have fun this All-Star game and needed some ideas,” Bell said.
The NL had all the good ideas Tuesday night. Prince Fielder hit a three-run homer and Roy Halladay combined with nine relievers on a six-hitter in a 5-1 victory Tuesday night, giving the senior circuit its first two-game winning streak since the mid-1990s.
“It’s hard to beat great pitching and a three-run homer,” NL manager Bruce Bochy said.
Brian Wilson got two outs and earned the save, just as he did for the Giants skipper when San Francisco won the championship last November.
“It felt like a little bit like last year when you come into a pressure situation and you try to do as clutch a performance as you can,” Wilson said.
Wilson sounded more impressed with Bell’s theatrics.
“I think he nailed it,” Wilson said. “I don’t know if I’d make it. I think I’d slip, ankle, flip, next thing you know I can’t pitch.”
The NL claimed home-field advantage in the World Series, its only blemish being Adrian Gonzalez’s homer in the fourth off Cliff Lee. Fielder connected in the bottom half of the inning against C.J. Wilson.
With several big names as no-shows, the AL lost more than the game.
Boston right-hander Josh Beckett warmed up, then bowed out because of a sore knee. Detroit slugger Miguel Cabrera left after hurting the oblique muscle in his side while swinging.
“We are not going to use not having Josh as an excuse,” AL manager Ron Washington said. “I think when you look at the ballgame, the bottom line is the National League pitching was outstanding. You know, we ended up giving up one big inning and they didn’t give up any.”
Even before the injuries, many stars were missing. Justin Verlander, Felix Hernandez, CC Sabathia and other aces who started Sunday were ineligible, Alex Rodriguez was among those on the disabled list and Derek Jeter wanted a break. In all, 16 of 84 All-Stars dropped out.
Tyler Clippard got the win despite allowing a single to his only batter, Adrian Beltre. Clayton Kershaw, Jair Jurrjens, Craig Kimbrel, Jonny Venters, Joel Hanrahan also relieved and combined to keep the NL ahead.
Fielder won the MVP award after becoming the first Brewers player to homer in an All-Star game. The World Series edge could help him later, with Milwaukee and St. Louis tied for the Central lead at the break. A half-hour after the win, the Brewers announced they had acquired former All-Star closer Francisco Rodriguez in a trade with the New York Mets.
“That was part of the message, how important it was for us, and how important the game was: Do it again for the National League champion,” Bochy said.
Fielder, son of former All-Star Cecil Fielder, was booed during the Home Run Derby a day earlier. He was the NL captain for the Derby, and local fans were angry he didn’t select Arizona’s Justin Upton.
“I didn’t take it personal at all,” Fielder said. “I understood it. No hard feelings.”
Andre Ethier singled in a run off rookie reliever Jordan Walden in the fifth, and slimmed-down Pablo Sandoval had an RBI double off Brandon League in the seventh.
The NL dashed around the bases and swiped three bags, all in one inning and two by Starlin Castro. In all, the Nationals have enjoyed their best run since taking three in a row from 1994-96 — they had lost 12 straight games played to a decision before a 3-1 victory at Anaheim last year.
Before a crowd of 47,994 that included Muhammad Ali, this was no desert classic — except for fans of pitching, which has become resurgent as the Steroids Era has receded. Scoring in the first half dropped to its lowest level in 19 years and the major league batting average shrunk to its smallest midseason figure since 1985.
The All-Star homers were the first since J.D. Drew connected at Yankee Stadium three years ago. The AL finished with six hits for the second straight year and its two-year total of two runs is its lowest since 1995-96.
“Just a coincidence,” Curtis Granderson said.
NOTES: There was a moment of silence before the game for the victims of the Tucson shootings in January, among them Christina-Taylor Green, the 9-year-old daughter of Dodgers scout John Green and granddaughter of former major league manager and GM Dallas Green. Her parents and brother brought the lineup cards to home plate. Families of the victims sat near the third-base dugout. Daniel Hernandez, an intern who helped save the life of U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords during the shootings, threw out a ceremonial first pitch along with Joe Garagiola. … Beckett warmed up to start the second but felt soreness in his left knee and didn’t pitch. “If it was a regular game, I could have pitched through it,” he said. … RF Jose Bautista made a sliding catch in foul territory in the right-field corner on Brian McCann before hitting the wall feet first. … The NL has outscored the AL 344-341. … This was the first time the DH was used for an All-Star game in an NL ballpark. . .. Even though the NL won for just the fifth time in 24 years, it holds a 42-38-2 advantage.