NEW YORK -- There's no real way of knowing if the sentiment surrounding the inaugural New York-Penn League All-Star Game resembled the atmosphere that enveloped Ebbets Field in 1949, the last time baseball's best players congregated for a showcase in Kings County.
No one will ever confuse this short-season Class A League with the big leagues, whether it was six decades ago or today. But there was certainly a feeling of warmth and welcoming at KeySpan Park on Tuesday night as the best the New York-Penn League has to offer put on quite a show for the sellout crowd of 9,054.
So, with the neon lights of Coney Island flashing beyond the left-field wall and the warm waters of the Atlantic Ocean crashing down onto the beach just past the right-field fence, the National League-affiliated stars made some history, holding off their American League counterparts, 5-4, proving that a Late-Summer Classic does have a place in the Minor Leagues.
The nuts and bolts of the game proved to be simple enough. The National League team, paced by Most Valuable Player Gaby Sanchez, jumped out to a 5-1 lead and appeared to be coasting to a methodical victory. But the American Leaguers weren't about to subscribe to that plan, rallying for three runs in the eighth inning, then putting the tying and go-ahead runs on in the ninth before New Jersey's Jeremy Zick slammed the door to earn the save.
Vermont's Wendell Yost became the first All-Star game victor, pitching a scoreless fifth inning. Likely, he also secured his place in the history books as the only Expo to earn a victory in the game because the franchise is expected to change its name this winter. Wade Davis, a third-round pick by Tampa Bay, took the loss, getting tagged for all four runs in the fifth, allowing four hits, walking a batter and hitting another in a 36-pitch effort.
"This All-Star game is something that should continue," Sanchez said. "The players really liked coming out here. And this game really means something. And it was nice to have 9,000 people out here giving you their support. The fans were great and it made you feel like you were playing at home. You weren't their team but they weren't cheering against you."
One of the reasons Sanchez was hearing the cheers was because of his two-run single in the fifth. The AL squad had taken a 1-0 lead in the second inning on an RBI triple by Staten Island's Kyle Larsen. But Williamsport's Todd Redmond pitched two scoreless innings followed by Yost's effort, setting the stage for the NL's big fifth.
Williamsport's Steve Pearce singled to get things started before Davis walked Batavia's Clay Harris and plunked New Jersey's Clay Gabriel to load the bases. Vermont's Leonard Davis singled home a run, as did Tri-City's Wlad Sutil, setting the stage for Sanchez. And he didn't disappoint, ringing a two-run single up the middle that broke the game open.
The NL added a run in the sixth on a Sean Danielson grounder to second, seemingly cementing the victory. But when the AL rallied for three unearned runs in the eighth off Batavia's
Kyle Kendrick, the game took on less of an exhibition feeling.
"At first when they started to come back, we were saying, 'Hey, it's just an All-Star Game,'" Sanchez said. "But then a sense of pride kicked in and we wanted to win. When they
started coming back it was like, 'Hey, let's get a couple of outs here.'"
Though the AL threw another scare into its counterparts in the top of the ninth, Zick had enough left to silence the threat.
"At one point, when they were bunting over runners and trying to score there late, it got to be real baseball there," said Jamestown's Chris Volstad, who pitched a scoreless seventh inning for the NL. "We really wanted to come out with the win there."
And it showed.