Dodgers take All-Star Game by storm
NL falls despite perfect relief work from Penny, Saito
SAN FRANCISCO -- They weren't terribly popular with Giants partisans in the AT&T Park crowd on a cold Tuesday night, but the Dodgers' three representatives didn't seem to mind.What hurt more was finding themselves on the wrong side of another All-Star Game, the National League's late rally falling short in a 5-4 decision taken by the Americans, who kept their Midsummer Classic magic intact and once again earned home-field advantage for the World Series. Russell Martin handled himself professionally behind the plate in his All-Star Game debut, while Brad Penny got the best of Vladimir Guerrero one year later and Takashi Saito pitched a perfect seventh inning, keeping the National League one run down. "I definitely would have loved to get a hit," Martin said, having gone 0-for-3 while missing one big chance when he popped out in the sixth inning against the Tigers' Justin Verlander. "But I tried my best. When I do that and don't succeed, I can't get angry." The at-bat against Verlander, the man with no-hit stuff, came with the potential tying run at second and two outs, the NL trailing by a run. Martin had lined out in his first at-bat against A's starter Dan Haren in the second, and struck out in the fourth against Boston's Josh Beckett. "It's a little tougher [than a regular-season game] to have a plan up there, especially when you're facing guys you haven't faced before," Martin said. "You're trying to hit a fastball in the zone; you know guys are going to try to hump up. It's not the same adrenaline you normally have. It's a little different." Martin, 24, showed his dexterity behind the plate in handling Ken Griffey Jr.'s throw from right field on a tough hop, turning and applying a tag on Alex Rodriguez to end the fourth inning. Ivan Rodriguez had singled to right with A-Rod on second. "It did get on me quick," Martin said of Griffey's bullet. "But I still got it." Martin handled the NL pitching staff capably, including one efficient inning by teammate Penny. "I'm still kind of amped up right now, even though I got taken out," Martin said. "That was a good game, man. Bases loaded, two outs ... I've never seen a better All-Star Game." Saito, who made his All-Star Game debut a perfect one at 37, sounded sure his catcher would be back many times. "It's too bad he couldn't come through in that one situation, but he's obviously one of the biggest performers of the Los Angeles Dodgers," Saito said through a translator. "He's been a rock for us. I think he had a good time." Saito certainly did, thoroughly enjoying dispatching the side in order in the seventh. He retired Brian Roberts, Jorge Posada and Torii Hunter in succession, nine of his 13 pitches in the strike zone.
"Down by one run, I was able to go into the game with the same intensity [as a save situation]," Saito said. "With the game on the line, you see the competitive side of guys. To keep it a one-run game, I was pretty satisfied."My focus is on helping my team win now, but if I get elected to play in [another] All-Star Game, I would be honored." Saito has made a remarkably quick rise to the highest level after arriving in the Dodgers' organization as one of the lesser known Japanese imports compared to the likes of All-Star Game MVP Ichiro Suzuki and Daisuke Matsuzaka. Penny was impressed the first time he saw Saito in the spring of 2006. "He was throwing 92 to 95 [mph], and his slider was nasty," Penny said. "He didn't make the club out of Spring Training, but [manager] Grady Little said he'd be back. When he did return, he immediately took up that closer role and he's been perfect the whole time." After striking out the side in a spectacular first inning in the 2006 All-Star Game, Penny yielded a memorable tomahawk homer in the second frame to Guerrero. This time, it was Penny in control, putting the Angels slugger behind 0-2 with a pair of fastballs, then bringing another fastball in on the hands that became an out, third to first, with Vlad breaking his bat. Penny dispatched Magglio Ordonez and Ivan Rodriguez, and the top of the second inning was over quickly on seven pitches, five of them strikes. "I faced him a lot when he was in Montreal," Penny said of Guerrero. "I wanted to get ahead -- last year I didn't get a chance to. Once I got to 0-2, I wanted to run a fastball in, and that's what I did. He's a great hitter, a Hall of Fame player." Penny was much more economical than in last year's start at Pittsburgh in making quick work of the AL's 5-6-7 hitters. "That was great," he said. "That's how I wanted it to be. Last year I struck out the side [in the first], but was 3-2 on everybody. I wanted to throw fewer pitches." Penny was booed "all the way through" during the parade taking the players to the ballpark from 11 a.m. to noon PT, and he was booed roundly along with Martin and Saito during the pregame introductions. "They don't like the Dodgers -- and shouldn't," Penny said. "If the All-Star Game was in L.A., it'd be the same [with fans booing Giants players]. But it wasn't bad once I got on the mound. It's a great baseball city." Martin knew it was still a Giants crowd, NL sentiment notwithstanding, on Monday. "I took batting practice yesterday, and right away they started booing me," he said. "Fans here are going to boo the Dodgers. I don't take it personally." He's fast for a catcher, but even Martin is a little amazed by how far he has traveled in such a short period of time. "It's funny, only two years ago I was in the Futures Game," Martin said. "Now here I am, playing in the All-Star Game. "I always put high standards for myself, try to push it to the limit. Individually, the ultimate goal is making the All-Star team." Penny, who said he loves pitching to Martin, has felt right at home in Los Angeles, reaching his full potential as a back-to-back All-Star after helping pitch the Marlins to a 2003 World Series title. "I like it in L.A. a lot better [than Florida]," Penny said. "The fans, it's more of a playoff atmosphere. It sells out all the time, and that makes it more fun, when the fans are into it. I'm fortunate to be where I'm at." Even if it means being a villain every time he comes to San Francisco, even as an All-Star.
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.