Beating the streak meaningful to McCann, NL

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ANAHEIM, Calif. — The American League’s dominance in the All-Star game had become such a joke that David Ortiz was free and easy with some pre-game trash talk, albeit of the good-natured variety, and Ichiro was pressured yet again into giving his annual pre-game inspirational speech – against his will.

The AL players clearly had a swagger about them, and relished their run of success. But the 13-year streak was put to rest on Tuesday night when Brian McCann turned on a Matt Thornton fastball for a three-run double in the seventh inning, sparking the NL to a 3-1 victory.

It was the first win for the NL since 1996. And while seven of those losses were by two runs or less, including a 4-3 defeat last season in St. Louis, the streak was on the players’ minds.

“We’ve had to answer that question the last five times for me,” said McCann, who was named the game’s MVP. “To be able to come through in a big spot was something I’ll never forget.”

NL manager Charlie Manuel, whose Phillies have been in each of the last two World Series, says he stressed the importance of the game to his players, and that home-field advantage in the Fall Classic was indeed a carrot worth reaching for.

“The last two years the Phillies have been in the World Series and it was big,” Manuel said. “Two years ago we won it when we played the Devil Rays in Philly and won three straight, we definitely did not want to go back down to Tampa and play. I think home-field advantage, definitely, it’s a big deal.”

Manuel managed the game in an unconventional manner – at least for an All-Star game. Bringing in left-handed middle reliever Hong-Chi Kuo in the fifth inning to face a string of AL left-handers, leaving established stars like Roy Halladay, Adam Wainwright and Tim Lincecum (who did not pitch) on the bench.

Then in the sixth inning, Manuel removed his own ace Roy Halladay after just 17 pitches — granted Halladay was struggling — in favor of Washington Nationals reliever Matt Capps.

Both moves were unusual considering the All-Star setting, but even though Kuo allowed an unearned run as the AL took a 1-0 lead, the moves worked out in the end.

Manuel said he thought that the streak didn’t weigh too heavily on his players’ minds, that it was of more interest to the fans and the media. But McCann’s comments on the matter were a little more revealing.

“Everybody knows that it counts,” he said. “We want to win it. We don’t come out here just to play like it’s OK to lose. Everybody in there is competitive and that’s why we’re here. We’ve been like this our whole lives. We want to win.”

And with his Atlanta Braves sitting atop the NL East, he admitted that home-field advantage was on his mind.

“It means a little more to me this year than in the past because we’re in first place,” he said. “You think about it more when you’re in that position, instead of coming here 10 games out, 12 games out.”

And for AL manager Joe Girardi, whose Yankees are among the favorites – if not THE favorites – to reach the World Series in October, he knows this was an opportunity lost.

“It’s extremely important, and whoever is in the World Series is going to have to work hard,” he said. “And ending the streak is disappointing as well, but we have an opportunity to start a new one next year.”

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There’s no one to blame in Yankees’ loss

Joe Girardi

You’re going to boo All-Star Brett Gardner for striking out against a Cy Young contender?

You’re going to bash Alex Rodriguez for going hitless in another postseason game, three years after his last one?

Maybe you’d prefer to put it all on Masahiro Tanaka for giving up two solo homers to a lineup full of 20-homer guys?

The truth is that the Yankees were supposed to lose tonight. They were facing an outstanding left-hander with their forever-lefty-heavy lineup, and they simply didn’t have anyone pitching like an ace to set themselves up nicely for a one-game, winner-take-all showdown. The 3-0 result… well, that’s how this was supposed to go down.

It didn’t necessarily mean it would; what fun would it be if the better team always won? And the Astros might not even be a better team than the Yankees. However, the Astros with Dallas Keuchel on the mound were certainly a better team than the Yankees with whoever they picked to throw.

I just don’t see where it’s worth putting any blame tonight. Joe Girardi? He could have started John Ryan Murphy over Brian McCann against the tough lefty, but he wasn’t willing to risk Tanaka losing his comfort zone by using a backup catcher.

The front office could have added more talent, perhaps outbidding the Blue Jays for David Price or the Royals for Johnny Cueto, and set themselves up better for the postseason. However, that would have cost them Luis Severino and/or Greg Bird, both of whom went on to play key roles as the Yankees secured the wild card. Would it really have been worth it? I don’t think so.

Tanaka gave the Yankees what they should have expected. Had Keuchel’s stuff been a little off on short rest, Tanaka’s performance would have kept the Yankees in the game.

Keuchel, though, was on his game from the first pitch. The Astros bullpen might have been a bit more vulnerable, and late at-bats from Gardner, Carlos Beltran, Rodriguez and McCann definitely left something to be desired. Still, on the whole, the lack of offense was quite a team effort.

The Yankees got beat by a better team tonight.  I’m not sure the Astros would have been better in Games 2-7 in a longer series, but they had everything in their favor in this one.

Keuchel, Astros cruise past Yankees in AL Wild Card Game

AP Photo/Kathy Willens

Dallas Keuchel faced the Yankees two times during the regular season and was fantastic in each outing, striking out 12 in a complete-game shutout on June 25 and whiffing nine batters over seven scoreless frames on August 25.

The 2015 Cy  Young Award candidate continued that trend in Tuesday night’s American League Wild Card Game, limiting the Yankees to three hits and one walk over six innings of scoreless ball as the Astros earned a 3-0 win and advanced to a best-of-five ALDS with the top-seeded Royals.

Keuchel was working on three days of rest but didn’t show very many signs of fatigue, whiffing seven and needing only 87 pitches to get through six. He sure looked like he could have gone an inning longer, but Astros manager A.J. Hinch decided to turn the game over to his bullpen and they added three more big zeroes to the scoreboard at a very loud then very boo-heavy Yankee Stadium. Tony Sipp worked around some early jitters to throw a scoreless seventh, Will Harris kept the Yankees off the bases entirely in a scoreless eighth, and closer Luke Gregerson went 1-2-3 in the bottom of the ninth.

Impending free agent outfielder Colby Rasmus provided the first burst of offense for the Astros in the top of the second inning with a leadoff homer against Masahiro Tanaka. And then deadline acquisition Carlos Gomez, who missed a bunch of time down the stretch with an intercostal strain, got to Tanaka for another solo shot in the top of the fourth. Houston scored its third run on a Jose Altuve RBI single in the top of the seventh.

This is a young, talented Astros team with an ace at the head of its rotation.

Kansas City could have a problem.