KANSAS CITY, MO. - The All-Star Game hadn't produced a first-inning meltdown like the one Justin Verlander had Tuesday night since 2004, when Roger Clemens surrendered six runs in a highly anticipated start before his hometown fans in Houston.
Verlander, the American League's reigning MVP and Cy Young Award winner, gave up five first-inning runs, and with the way the AL offense has been hitting in recent years, it was basically game over.
A trio of San Francisco Giants turned in the biggest performances, and Joe Mauer was relegated to a late-game cameo at first base, as the National League rolled to an 8-0 victory at Kauffman Stadium.
Giants righthander Matt Cain set the tone for the NL's pitching brilliance, breezing through the first two innings. His San Francisco teammate Pablo Sandoval hit a three-run triple in the first inning off Verlander, and Giants outfielder Melky Cabrera earned All-Star MVP honors, going 2-for-3 with a two-run homer.
The NL claimed home-field advantage in the World Series again, extending a three-game All-Star winning streak in which it has outscored the AL 16-2.
"The talk the last few years was that we couldn't lose before that," Mauer said, referencing the AL's unbeaten streak from 1997 to 2009. "It goes in cycles."
Verlander admitted he wasn't himself in the first inning. He has given up six first-inning runs combined in 18 starts for the Tigers this year. His forte has been an ability to save his hardest pitches for big, late-inning jams. In his July 4 complete game against the Twins, he tossed his fastball 91 miles per hour in the first inning.
This time, in his first All-Star start, his first two pitches were 97 and 98 mph. The radar gun might have been juiced, but he reached 100 mph six times in the 35-pitch inning, and topped out at 101.
"That's why I don't try to throw 100 all the time," Verlander said. "It usually doesn't work out too well for me. I know this game is important, that it's for home-field advantage, but it's for the fans. They don't want to see me throw 90 and paint corners. They want to see a 100 mph fastball. I gave 'em that."
The NL sent nine batters to the plate in the first. Ryan Braun's RBI double opened the scoring, and Sandoval broke things open with his two-out, bases-clearing triple off the right field wall. Dan Uggla added an RBI single that inning, as former Twins closer Joe Nathan started warming in the bullpen.
"The only thing you can say is [Verlander's] not used to throwing 100 in the first," said Nathan, who pitched a scoreless second inning. "He's usually 92-93 and lights it up when he needs to."
The NL added three runs off Rangers lefthander Matt Harrison in the fourth inning. Tony La Russa, who retired after leading the Cardinals to the World Series title last year, picked St. Louis outfielder Matt Holliday to pinch-hit for Carlos Gonzalez, and Holliday delivered a two-out, RBI single to right field before Cabrera followed with his two-run homer.
It was quite a homecoming for Cabrera, who had 201 hits for the Royals last year before getting traded to the Giants for lefthander Jonathan Sanchez.
"I didn't come to win an MVP," Cabrera said. "That's just a surprise."
La Russa pushed all the right buttons, starting with his decision to start Cain over knuckleballer R.A. Dickey. La Russa's plan was to hold off on Dickey until mid-game, when he could enter with backup catcher Carlos Ruiz.
Gio Gonzalez, Stephen Strasburg and Clayton Kershaw followed Cain with an inning apiece before Dickey entered with Ruiz in the sixth. Cole Hamels pitched the seventh before the NL, in true La Russa fashion, used five relievers to get through the final two innings.
"I was aware that this was going to be it," La Russa said, knowing this was his final game as a manager. "You just get wrapped up like you usually do in trying to win the game. It consumes you."
Mauer entered at first base in the eighth inning and gave Twins fans a quick highlight with a sharp single off Diamondbacks lefthander Wade Miley in the ninth.
"It was a great event," Mauer said. "I was glad to get in the game there at the end and come up with a hit."