Any concerns A's fans may have had about making a World Series and having to open on the road against a less-deserving team were alleviated tonight, as the American League cruised to a 3-0 victory over their National League foes and guaranteed its World Series representative home field advantage in the Fall Classic.
Grant Balfour, the only A's representative who was eligible to participate, got his opportunity in the sixth inning. True to form, he started the frame by walking Colorado's Michael Cuddyer on four pitches. Even truer to form, though, he settled down. First, he induced a pop fly to shortstop from Bryce Harper, e then got Matt Carpenter on a fly ball to shallow center field. Balfour finished the inning off with a strikeout of Pittsburgh's Andrew McCutchen, his second in eight days, as he also struck him out swinging last Tuesday at PNC Park.
Overall, it was a great outing for Balfour, despite the fact that Joe Buck seemed to think something was gravely wrong with him after he issued the free pass to Cuddyer. Clearly, Buck hasn't watched a lot of A's baseball this season. It was nice to see an Oakland player see game action, and even nicer that he helped determine a win that would gain the A's home field advantage in a World Series, should they advance that far in the playoffs.
The American League's runs came in separate innings. In the 4th, Miguel Cabrera doubled to center field, advanced to third on a Chris Davis single, and then scored on a Joey Bautista sacrifice fly to center. The AL went right back to work in the top of the 5th, which Adam Jones led off with a double. He scored on a force out later in the inning to bring the score to 2-0. In the 8th, back-to-back singles from Salvador Perez and Jhonny Peralta had the American League in business, but a double play before Jason Kipnis' ground-rule double limited the damage to a single run and left the score at 3-0.
Mariano Rivera came on in the bottom of the 8th inning and worked a 1-2-3 inning after receiving a long ovation from a crowd of mainly Mets fans at Citi Field — that was cool to see. Mariano and Jeter are the only Yankees I have absolutely no problem cheering for, even though Robinson Cano has earned some major points for picking Yoenis Cespedes to participate in (and win) the Home Run Derby. It was obviously an interesting decision on Leyland's part to have Rivera pitch the 8th instead of the 9th, but I like the decision he made. If the NL had rallied to take the lead in the bottom of the 8th and the AL had subsequently failed to score, the game would've been over. Even though it was unlikely, there was only a 99% chance that Rivera could pitch the 9th, but getting him into the game in the 8th inning was a sure thing. When it's Mariano RIvera's final All-Star Game appearance, I think that not taking any chances is the right move.
Now comes the bad part of the All-Star Break. There's no baseball again until Friday, when the A's find themselves in the Southern half of California for a three-game weekend set against the Angels. Here are the pitching matchups:
Good luck killing time for the next two days, AN!