Midsummer victors often reap Series rewards
Home-field advantage in World Series has provided winners big benefits
KANSAS CITY -- This is the dichotomy, the dual identity that exists at the All-Star Game.Justin Verlander has molded himself into an MVP by harnessing his heat early in games in an effort to establish his command. But on the All-Star stage at Kauffman Stadium on Tuesday night, with home-field advantage in the World Series on the line (a potentially pivotal prize for a Tigers team that expects to contend), Verlander exited that strategy for the sake of exhibition. Out came the 100-mph heat, and Verlander's inability to control it effectively was a big reason he was lit up for five first-inning runs en route to the American League's 8-0 loss.
"I know it means something," Verlander said. "But we're here for the fans. I know the fans don't want to see me throw 90 and try to hit the corners. So, just let it heat. Have fun." Ultimately, that kind of fun is what this event is all about. But it does have potentially enormous implications, and that was especially apparent with the way the World Series played out last fall. The lesson of the 2011 Cardinals -- a Wild Card winner that sneaked into the playoffs on the last day of the regular season then went on a ridiculous run that included home victories in Game 6 and 7 of the Fall Classic -- had to be hanging in the air when the AL and NL squads took the field at Kauffman Stadium. Very quickly, it became clear that a third straight installment of midsummer merriment was on tap for the NL. Now that the edge is in-hand, it's worth pointing out just what some as-yet-unknown NL club claimed Tuesday night. Teams with the home-field edge have won 24 of the last 31 and 21 of the last 26 World Series. More to the point, the club with the home-field honor has won each of the last nine World Series Game 7s. Since the current All-Star arrangement was instituted in 2003 -- replacing the program in which home-field alternated between leagues each year -- the team with home-field advantage has won six of nine times. "[Home] is where you want to be," Red Sox slugger David Ortiz said. "Baseball is not like basketball or football where you definitely want to be at home. But still, home is home." That's what made Tuesday's result such a bummer for the AL contenders and such a boon for the those in the Senior Circuit. Obviously, at this point in the season, it's premature to speculate on who it helps and who it hurts, and if you sniff around the topic, competitive instincts kick in. "We didn't have home-field against Philadelphia and Milwaukee, and that was a big disadvantage against two very good clubs," NL manager Tony La Russa said, referring to his '11 Cards' trip through the NL playoffs. "If you are an October team, you can overcome that. I'm sure the National League would rather play their home games there. But if you don't have it, you can still win. I mean, it's not a magic bullet; it's just a nice edge." The results obviously mesh with that rhetoric, and the reality is that, in a one-off exhibition nearly three months shy of October, players can only get so caught up in the significance of the end result. As Derek Jeter said, "I hope I can complain about us being on the road for a Game 7." Right now, the focus is admittedly elsewhere. "The reason these games are so competitive," La Russa opined, "I think both leagues just want a shot at the other one. They just like to compete. And home field is a nice extra, but it's not the major reason the guys are into the games." They are into the games, simply because their innate competitive instincts -- the traits that drove them to this prestigious point -- kick in when they take the field. You saw that Tuesday night, when the NL's Melky Cabrera tried to give AL second baseman Robinson Cano a high-five as he rounded the bases after a three-run homer in the fourth inning, and Cano refused. "You don't want to show up your teammates when you're losing," Cano explained. But the players can only take that tone so far. To play this game with the passion of a late-September stretch run would serve to suffocate some of the fun and frivolity. And so you have Verlander, reeling back and firing off a 100-mph heater. Then you have first baseman Prince Fielder yelling at him, urging him on. "Ver!" Fielder yelled to his teammate. "101!" And Verlander delivered it -- a 101-mph fastball. It wasn't the kind of thing he'd do in a game that counted for his Tigers club, and his wasn't the kind of outing that would have put the AL in prime position to end its All-Star slump. But then again, this wasn't the kind of outing Verlander was going to bemoan, either. He was just trying to have a good time. Recent results, however, reveal that some NL team was just placed in a good position.
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his columns and his blog, CastroTurf, and follow him on Twitter at @Castrovince. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.