Updated at 12:51 a.m., July 11, 2012
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Melky Cabrera and Pablo Sandoval sent the National League to a big early lead. Matt Cain and the rest of an imposing pitching staff finished off a Giant blowout in the All-Star game.
Flashing their bright orange spikes and booming bats, the San Francisco sluggers keyed a five-run blitz against Justin Verlander in the first inning that powered the NL to an 8-0 romp over the American League on Tuesday night.
Cabrera homered and won the MVP award in the ballpark where he played last season, and Cain got the win in the NL’s most-lopsided All-Star victory.
Chipper Jones singled in his final All-Star at-bat at age 40 as the NL, under retired manager Tony La Russa, once again claimed home-field advantage in the World Series.
La Russa asked Jones to address the team before the game and the Atlanta third baseman told players: “Whether you’re 19 or 40, we are all equals here.”
“I am not going out losing my last one. So, you with me?” he added.
Said La Russa: “I thought Chipper set the tone.”
Jones received one of the loudest ovations during the pregame introductions and many players said in recent days they were honored to be All-Stars alongside him.
“I was glad Tony asked me to say something,” Jones said. “I just wanted the guys to know that nothing is a given. You don’t know when your last one is going to be. Don’t miss this opportunity.”
The NL didn’t miss much early.
Ryan Braun, an All-Star again after his drug suspension was overturned last winter, doubled, tripled and made a fine catch in the outfield to help give the NL its first three-game winning streak in two decades.
Teen sensation Bryce Harper had a shaky All-Star debut with a walk, strikeout and missed catch. Fellow rookie Mike Trout, only 20, showed off his dynamic skills.
Cain combined with Stephen Strasburg, R.A. Dickey, Aroldis Chapman and the rest of a lights-out staff on a six-hitter.
The game was pretty much decided a few moments after it started.
Sandoval hit the first bases-loaded triple in All-Star history off Verlander, who couldn’t control his 100 mph heat. Cabrera singled and scored the first run, then hit a two-run homer against Matt Harrison in a three-run fourth.
“I don’t get many triples,” said the slow-footed Sandoval, known as Kung Fu Panda. “We had some fun with that in the dugout.”
Nicknamed the Melk-man, Cabrera is with his fourth team in four years. The former Royals outfielder drew big cheers as he received the MVP award, his mother next to him.
“I didn’t come to win an MVP. That’s just a surprise,” he said. “The same opportunity that Kansas City gave me last year is the same opportunity that San Francisco is giving me every day to showcase my talent. Again, I’m just very thankful for the fans that voted for me to come here.”
San Francisco fans, who made a late voting push to elect Sandoval and Cabrera to starting spots, might really appreciate the victory come October. The Giants are a half-game behind the first-place Dodgers in the NL West.
Rafael Furcal also hit a three-bagger, making the NL the first league with three in an All-Star game.
As the All-Stars returned to Kansas City for the first time since 1973, La Russa bid a fond farewell to the national stage in the city where he played for his first major league team.
Having retired after managing St. Louis to last year’s World Series title, La Russa became just the fourth inactive manager to skipper an All-Star team and improved to 4-2.
“Just lucky, like I’ve been 30 years,” La Russa said.
After all the talk about AL dominance during the offseason when Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder switched leagues, the NL boosted its advantage to 43-38-2 and won for just the third time in the 10 years the All-Star game has been used to determine home-field advantage in the World Series. La Russa’s Cardinals benefited from last year’s NL All-Star victory, with St. Louis winning Games 6 and 7 at home against Ron Washington’s Texas Rangers.
“It’s very disappointing, because we’re competitors and we want to win,” said Washington, who lost for the second straight year. “They came out. They swung the bats. Once they got the lead, started bringing those arms in their hand, and they got the job done.”
Jones, retiring at the end of the season, also had one last All-Star moment, pinch hitting in the sixth and singling just past second baseman Ian Kinsler and into right field. Jones chuckled as the ball rolled through.
At 19 the youngest position player in All-Star history, Harper had a shaky start when he entered in the fifth. The heralded rookie, wearing shiny gold shoes, didn’t flash a Gold Glove and lost Mike Napoli’s routine fly to left in the lights, allowing it to drop behind him for a single.
Harper then caught Kinsler’s bases-loaded flyball to end the inning, earning applause from the crowd of 40,933 at Kauffman Stadium, spruced up by a $250 million renovation that was completed three years ago.
Harper tagged up on a long fly after his walk in the fifth, but got himself hung up in a rundown and tagged out.
Trout, among a record five All-Star rookies, had a nice showing against two very different pitchers. The Angels outfielder singled and stole a base against Dickey’s knuckleball, then drew a walk against Chapman and his 101 mph heat.
“I’m going to remember this the rest of my life,” Trout said.
Cain pitched the 22nd perfect game in big league history last month. He didn’t have to be perfect in this one, allowing one hit in two innings for the win.
“For those guys to go out and score five runs in the first inning was definitely a little more relaxing for me,” he said. “But I still tried to stay focused.”
Cain was followed by 10 relievers, with Jonathan Papelbon getting the last out with a runner on third base.
Verlander had a puzzling outing. In games that count, he hasn’t allowed five runs in an inning since April 2010, according to STATS LLC. He became the first All-Star to give up a five-spot since Houston’s Roger Clemens in front of his hometown fans in 2004.
“It was pretty difficult for me to get the ball down today,” said Verlander, who admitted he approached this differently than a regular-season start.
In a 35-pitch inning, he threw five pitches clocked at 100 mph and another at 101.
“But I had fun,” he said. “That’s why I don’t try to throw 100 in the first inning. But this is for the fans. It doesn’t usually work out too well for me.”
A crowd clad in red, white and blue T-shirts cheered during pregame introductions for hometown star Billy Butler, who dropped his cap when he tried to wave it. Fans booed the New York Yankees’ Robinson Cano, who angered local fans when he bypassed Butler for Monday night’s Home Run Derby.
Not since Game 7 of Kansas City’s 1985 World Series win over the Cardinals had the baseball world descended on the Royals’ ballpark, a rare 1970s beauty known for its 322-foot-wide fountain in right and the 105-foot-high scoreboard topped by a crown.
Cabrera singled with one out in the first and scored on a double to deep right by Braun, the reigning NL MVP.
Verlander threw six straight balls during consecutive two-out walks to Carlos Beltran and Buster Posey. Wearing shiny gold-and-orange spikes for the occasion, Sandoval sent a drive off the base of the wall in the right-field corner for a 4-0 lead.
He scored when Dan Uggla grounded to the shortstop hole and Fielder failed to come up with Derek Jeter’s one-hop throw to first, leaving Uggla with an infield hit.
After Furcal tripled to right, pinch-hitter Matt Holliday singled for a 6-0 lead and Cabrera followed with a drive into the left-field bullpen.
As he neared second base, Cabrera stuck out his hand to shake with Cano, his buddy from their days together with the Yankees. Cano just let him pass by.
Dickey, a first-time All-Star at 37, pitched a one-hit sixth, plunking Paul Konerko on his shoulder with a pitch.
Although he has a big league-best 12-1 record, Dickey was denied the start — possibly because of the difficulty of catching his knuckler. He brought along an oversized glove from Mets catcher Josh Thole that was used by Carlos Ruiz, who replaced Posey behind the plate in the sixth.
“I really appreciate the warm reception by the fans in Kansas City. Maybe a lot of them have heard my story,” Dickey said.
“It was definitely worth the wait,” he said.
La Russa, usually serious and tense after games, was playful after his finale, chanting “Mel-ky! Mel-ky! Mel-ky!” as the MVP walked to the podium.
“If you’re trying to win one game, there’s not a better manager out there,” Braun said. “It’s only fitting that he went out with a win.”
NOTES: The NL extended the AL’s scoreless streak to 14 innings — its longest drought since 1995-97. … The NL won for just the sixth time in a quarter-century. … The NL had last won three straight in 1994-96. … It was the first All-Star shutout since the NL’s 6-0 win in 1996 at Philadelphia.
(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)