Howard comes up short in 'crucial' spot

Howard comes up short in 'crucial' spot

He returned to his hometown this week a National League All-Star, one of the highlights of a career already full of memorable moments. He put on a good show at the Home Run Derby on Monday. He met President Barack Obama for the second time this season before the All-Star Game on Tuesday at Busch Stadium. He received a hometown ovation during pregame introductions.

It couldn't have been better.

Actually, it could have. Howard stepped into the batter's box with runners on first and third with two outs in the bottom of the eighth inning with the National League trailing the American League by a run.

He had a chance to win the game.

Twins closer Joe Nathan threw Howard five consecutive fastballs. Howard fouled off two of them to put the count at 2-2. During the sequence, Orlando Hudson stole second base to put runners on second and third.

A single could have scored both runners and given the National League the lead, and a chance at their first victory since 1996.

But Nathan threw Howard a 2-2 slider and Howard couldn't check his swing.

He struck out to end the inning, and the NL went on to lose to the AL, 4-3, extending its winless streak to 13.

"Yeah, it was a crucial situation," Howard said. "Anytime during the regular season you're in a situation like that, you want to try to get the job done. That's the game of baseball. Sometimes it happens like that."

Howard downplayed the at-bat, but he grew up in St. Louis. Don't believe for a second he would not have loved to come through with a single or a home run.

"He took some good swings in that at-bat," Raul Ibanez said. "I thought for sure he was going to get it done. I've seen it done so many times before."

Howard has always hit well in St. Louis. In 17 games at Busch Stadium, he had hit .381 (24-for-63) with seven home runs and 29 RBIs. And then consider Howard also pinch-hit for Padres closer Heath Bell. Howard is a career .393 (11-for-28) pinch-hitter with five homers and 12 RBIs.

"I came up a little short," Howard said.

Shane Victorino, who earned a spot on the NL roster by winning the Final Vote contest, started in center field because the Mets' Carlos Beltran was injured. He made the most of his opportunity. He went 1-for-2 and scored a run from first base in the second inning when Yadier Molina singled to center field.

Victorino hit a first-pitch fastball from Blue Jays right-hander Roy Halladay to get on base.

"I didn't want to take too many pitches off Roy," Victorino said. "It's not fun to face him when you're behind in the count, so I jumped on the first fastball and hit it to right field. And then when Yadier hit that ball to center, I said, 'Should I go to third?' But then I thought I would force the throw to third and let David Wright score."

He got more than Wright to score. Josh Hamilton's throw hit off Victorino's back and Victorino got up and ran home to score to make it 2-2.

Chase Utley and Ibanez, who also started, both went 0-for-2.

Jayson Werth went 0-for-1, but he also made a nice catch at the wall in the ninth.

"This whole thing was a good experience," Werth said. "It was awesome. It was fun. I had a lot of fun."

Todd Zolecki is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.