If only everyone played baseball the way Marlon Byrd does.
He hustles on every play. I've heard it said that he thinks double every time he gets a clean hit to the outfield. He's always doing it with a smile on his face. Imagine that -- a millionaire professional athlete actually enjoying what he's doing on the field.
And in last night's 3-1 National League win over the American League, Byrd showed everyone all of these things, and why he's become a fan favorite at Wrigley Field in only half a season.
First, Byrd worked a walk off the White Sox' Matt Thornton -- after being down 0-2 in the count. This is something rare enough for a Cubs hitter -- the Cubs rank 11th in the NL in walks drawn -- but even rarer for Byrd himself, who has walked only 14 times in 359 plate appearances, the fewest of any of the Cub regulars in the season's first half. Thornton, oddly enough, threw only one inning in the six Cubs/White Sox interleague games this season and did not face Byrd in that inning; he has, in fact, faced Byrd in only one regular-season at-bat in his career. The result? A bases-loaded walk on July 22, 2008.
That loaded the bases and set the stage for the Braves' Brian McCann, who roped a line drive into the right field corner. Byrd, going full speed, scored from first base on a sweet-looking slide, fist raised, with the NL's third run.
But Byrd wasn't done with heroics.
In the bottom of the ninth, with the Red Sox' David Ortiz on first base, the Blue Jays' John Buck lofted a soft line drive into right field. Byrd didn't get a good enough jump to catch it; Ortiz held up, thinking it would be caught, but Byrd snagged it on one bounce, whirled and threw a perfect strike to the Dodgers' Rafael Furcal for a force play. This is a rare enough event in general, and it has only happened one other time in an All-Star Game:
The only other outfield force play in an All-Star Game came in 1957, when Frank Robinson was forced at second base on Eddie Mathews fielder's choice grounder to right fielder Al Kaline.
And just to complete Byrd's noteworthy day, he did this from a position he hasn't played all year, right field -- and he played it only six times all last year.
So the NL wins and thus gets home-field advantage in the World Series -- and the game was actually entertaining and well-played, which has been a recent rarity in All-Star games.
Without getting into detail about the wrongheaded "this time it counts" idea again, it is, as you know, the first NL win since the 1996 game at Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia. That's so long ago that only two players (Andy Pettitte and Alex Rodriguez) who were on the '96 rosters were also on the rosters for 2010. Irony: Pettitte wasn't in the '96 game but pitched an inning last night; A-Rod, only in his second full season in '96, played in that game but not last night (and AL manager Joe Girardi may have made a mistake when he failed to use A-Rod to run for Ortiz). It's so long ago that besides those two, there are only three other players from the '96 rosters who are even active players today: Ivan Rodriguez, Chipper Jones and Jason Kendall.
A couple of final notes: the game ran 2:59 -- amazing, with Fox's blather and endless commercials, they still got it in under three hours, the second year in a row they've accomplished that feat.
And if the White Sox, who are on an amazing run and have a shot at the World Series, do make it that far, they can blame their loss of home field on their own relief pitcher, Thornton, who gave up the double to McCann.