In an All-Star game that clearly meant more than a mere exhibition, Hank Blalock connected for a two-run, pinch-hit homer off Eric Gagne in the eighth inning Tuesday to rally the American League over the National League 7-6.
Blalock's unlikely shot gave the AL champion home-field advantage in this year's World Series.
The NL was supposed to have the home-field edge this season. But after last season's disastrous 7-7 tie in 11 innings, baseball decided to juice up the All-Star game by attaching more meaning and determining World Series home-field advantage on the outcome.
"Certainly, our guys in the clubhouse are going to be in the World Series, so I'm glad that I could help them out," Blalock said.
Jason Giambi and Garret Anderson also homered as the AL posted its sixth straight victory -- not counting the tie -- and matched its longest winning streak ever.
Now, for the first time since Detroit hosted the opener in 1934 and 1935, the World Series will start in the same league in consecutive years.
"We realize and recognize what was put on us and the stakes that were there," NL manager Dusty Baker said. "I'm not crazy about the outcome, even though it was a great game to watch and a great game to manage."
Andruw Jones' two-run, pinch-hit double and solo homer gave the Nationals a 5-1 lead before Anderson hit a two-run homer in the sixth.
Then, the vaunted NL bullpen blew it. Houston closer Billy Wagner gave up Giambi's solo shot in the seventh that made it 6-4 and Gagne, who has been successful on 39 straight chances for Los Angeles, fell apart in the eighth.
Vernon Wells hit an RBI double with two outs and Blalock, batting for Troy Glaus, hit a long drive to right field -- to the right of the big outfield sign that proclaimed the All-Star slogan, "This Time It Counts."
Brendan Donnelly got the win with a scoreless eighth and Keith Foulke pitched the ninth for a save. Rafael Furcal flied out to the warning track in right to end it as the AL closed its overall deficit in the series to 40-32-2.
Anderson won the first Ted Williams Most Valuable Player trophy. It was supposed to have been given out at last year's All-Star game in Milwaukee, but the tie changed that.
From the start, it was evident that both teams were intent on winning.
For the first time in years, each side had signs and signals. And there was only one substitution for a position player before the fifth inning -- last year, half the elected starters were out of the game by the bottom of the fourth, with the likes of Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa and Manny Ramirez long gone.
"I think there were a lot of little subtleties," AL manager Mike Scioscia said. "At times, I think we were more conscious of late-inning matchups than we might have been if it was more of an exhibition game."
Plus, there was an argument during a sequence that showed exactly how serious the teams were.
Todd Helton's two-run homer started the NL's five-run fifth, its biggest All-Star inning since Hall of Famers Hank Aaron, Willie McCovey, Johnny Bench and Steve Carlton got hits in a five-run burst in 1969.
After Furcal singled as a pinch-hitter, Scioscia took out right hander Shigetoshi Hasegawa and brought in left hander Eddie Guardado. NL manager Dusty Baker quickly countered, sending up the right-handed Jones to hit for lefty Jim Edmonds.