ST. LOUIS — The Rays had their fingerprints all over Tuesday's All-Star Game to begin with. Then their most decorated All-Star, third-timer Carl Crawford, had a huge hand in the American League's 4-3 victory and carried out the crystal trophy as the game's unexpected MVP.
Crawford started the AL's go-ahead rally with a fifth-inning single and later made the play of the day — and the best of his stellar career — with a leaping catch at the leftfield wall to deny Brad Hawpe of a tiebreaking home run in the seventh.
"I don't think I've ever robbed a home run before, so I picked a good time to do it tonight," Crawford said. "It's definitely probably the best catch I ever made."
"It was the best he's ever made," Rays/AL manager Joe Maddon said. "That was an outstanding play. And just an outstanding game for him. I'm very proud of him. He had a good way about him these couple days; I could see he was real eager to get out there. He did not surprise me."
Crawford was a bit surprised, however, to be named the MVP.
"I didn't see that coming,'' Crawford said. "They totally caught me off guard. I definitely didn't think I was going to win it. … I'm just so happy I don't really know what to say. I just hope I can come back here many times and try to win it again."
As he was walking from the interview room back to the AL clubhouse, Crawford was asked for his cap by Hall of Fame official Brad Horn, handed that over and said, "Take anything you want."
Crawford's catch kept the score at 3-3, and there were cheers, oohs and aahs around Busch Stadium and a very obvious "Wow" on the mound from AL reliever Jonathan Papelbon.
It also provided some momentum as the AL went ahead to stay the next inning. Detroit's Curtis Granderson tripled over the head of leftfielder Justin Upton (younger brother of B.J.) and Baltimore's Adam Jones followed with a sac fly.
They hung on through a threatening eighth, as Minnesota's Joe Nathan struck out Ryan Howard with two on after Orlando Hudson's single ticked off the tip of diving Rays shortstop Jason Bartlett's glove.
Mariano Rivera closed it out in the ninth, with Ben Zobrist catching Miguel Tejada's popup for the final out, Maddon so focused on the game he said later he didn't even realize one of his own made the play.
Zobrist hung on to the final ball as a most memorable souvenir of his first All-Star appearance — "What are you talking about?" he joked — but then said he would first ask Rivera if he wanted it. "If not,'' Zobrist said, "I'm keeping that thing in a safe place.''
The AL extended its All-Star record unbeaten streak to 13, winning 12 and tying one, and closed the overall gap to 40-38-2. The AL also won homefield advantage for the World Series.
That capped a good night for Maddon, who managed his dominant pitching staff well (using Papelbon, Nathan and Rivera for the final three frames), used all but three position players (Nelson Cruz, Carlos Peña and late addition Chone Figgins), and even broke out one of his defensive shifts, putting Bartlett on the first-base side of second and Zobrist in short rightfield when Howard hit in the eighth.
"Of course I would prefer being a part of the streak as opposed to the other way around," Maddon said.
The Rays were heavily represented, filling up their own row during the team picture with a team-record five players (Bartlett, Crawford, Peña, Zobrist and the inactive Evan Longoria), Maddon, six coaches and bullpen catcher Scott Cursi.
"It was fun for all of us,'' Zobrist said. "Just an awesome experience.''
Marc Topkin can be reached at email@example.com.