NEW YORK - Marquee starters were long gone. So were nearly all the other pitchers.
His bullpen empty, National League manager Clint Hurdle approached David Wright and asked whether he had the right stuff to take the mound and close out the All-Star game. Did the New York Mets third baseman think chief operating officer Jeff Wilpon or general manager Omar Minaya would mind?
"Don't worry," Wright remembered saying. "They're probably sleeping by now. Nobody will know."
What began Tuesday night as a matchup between Ben Sheets and Cliff Lee nearly ended in the wee hours of yesterday with Wright pitching for the NL and Boston Red Sox right fielder J.D. Drew toeing the rubber for the American League.
Just as that possibility was becoming very real, Justin Morneau slid home just in time on Michael Young's sacrifice fly in the 15th inning, giving the AL a 4-3 victory that extended its unbeaten streak to 12.
Yankee Stadium, hosting its final All-Star game, was the stage for a 4-hour, 50-minute marathon that ended at 1:37 a.m. Given the ticket prices - $525-$725 in the lower deck, $150 in the bleachers - fans deserved something extra. They got it.
"Anyone who needed proof that Yankee Stadium is the grandest stage in baseball got it last night," Yankees owner George Steinbrenner said in a statement. "The 2008 All-Star game was one of the greatest experiences in my life and in franchise history."
Many of the 49 Hall of Famers honored during pregame pageantry likely were in bed by the final out. There would be no repeat of 2002's 7-7, 11-inning tie in Milwaukee, which caused commissioner Bud Selig to expand the rosters.
"The commissioner has made it clear: He didn't care if it was 25 innings. The game was being played to conclusion," said Bob DuPuy, baseball's chief operating officer.
Wright guessed he hadn't pitched since Little League.
"I would have made up stuff on the mound," he said yesterday. "In a way, I wish it would have happened. It would have been a thrill for me to remember for the rest of my life."
Phillies closer Brad Lidge, who had thrown about 100 warmup pitches in the bullpen, pitched the 15th for the NL. He maybe could have gone another inning. Scott Kazmir entered in the 15th for the AL, two days after a 104-pitch outing for the Rays. He had only an inning or so left.
"We were going to go on hours, not pitches," AL manager Terry Francona said.
Hurdle had used every player on his roster except Giants pitcher Tim Lincecum, who was too sick to play. Francona had used all 32 of his players on his roster.
"The only thing I could think to do was put [DH Evan] Longoria in the game and pitch J.D.," Francona said. "But we were still a little ways away from that."
Drew has volunteered to pitch in an emergency for the Red Sox, but Francona has never taken him up on the offer.
For Francona, this took on the stress of a game that counts in the standings.
"I told Jim Leyland, 'I'll quit cursing, I'll quit chewing,' " he said, referring to the Detroit manager who was part of his coaching staff. "I lied."
The NL was given a pregame pep talk by Hall of Famer Ernie Banks, whose motto is: "Let's play two!" And they nearly did, matching the NL's 2-1 win at Anaheim in 1967 for the longest All-Star game.
By the 13th inning, MLB dispatched senior vice president Joe Garagiola Jr. to remind the managers that the game would be played until there was a winner.
The AL improved to 6-0 since the All-Star game began determining home-field advantage in the World Series and 11-0-1 since its 1996 loss in Philadelphia. And it even ended an old hex - the AL had been 0-9-1 in extra innings against its older rival.
By the way, baseball's labor contract makes no provision for homefield advantage if there isn't an All-Star winner.
Morneau started the winning rally with a leadoff single against Lidge, and the AL loaded the bases on Dioner Navarro's single and Drew's one-out walk.
Young lofted a fly to right, and Corey Hart's throw home bounced and was slightly to the first-base side of the plate. Catcher Brian McCann gloved the ball and tried a sweep tag, but Morneau sneaked his right foot in, barely ahead of the tag.
Drew was picked as the MVP, with his two-run homer in the seventh making it 2-all. Being from Boston, he was booed when presented with his trophy.
The teams set records for strikeouts (34), runners left on base (28), and players (63). Young's fly came on the 453rd pitch.
The pinstriped crowd got to boo Boston's Jonathan Papelbon and the Mets' Billy Wagner. The fans showed their love for Yankees closer Mariano Rivera and captain Derek Jeter.
Colorado's Matt Holliday and Drew homered. Houston shortstop Miguel Tejada made a great falling throw on a slow grounder to deny the AL a win in the 10th after a pair of ugly errors by Dan Uggla, who made a record three botches in all.
The AL left the potential winning run at third base in the 10th, 11th, and 12th innings. Uggla twice stranded what would have been the go-ahead run on third. In the 11th, Pittsburgh center fielder Nate McLouth made a perfect throw to nail Navarro at the plate on Young's single, with Dodgers catcher Russell Martin applying the tag.
Papelbon, mocked with chants of "Mariano!" and "Overrated!" gave up Adrian Gonzalez's go-ahead sacrifice fly in the eighth, but Wagner allowed Longoria's tying double in the bottom half.
A sellout crowd of 55,632 had come to honor the 85-year-old ballpark, home to Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle. Steinbrenner delivered the balls for the ceremonial first pitches from a golf cart.
And then the game went on and on.
"Yankee Stadium is tough, I'm telling you," Rivera said. "Didn't want it to end."
NOTES: The previous longest game by time was 1967, which took 3:41. ... The NL was 0-for-6 with runners in scoring position, the AL 3-for-22. ... The Hall of Fame collected two souvenirs - Rivera's jersey and dirt from the pitcher's mound. ... The NL leads 40-37-2 overall.
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