KANSAS CITY, Mo. - Jonathan Papelbon was the 11th pitcher of the night and asked to seal a rout by recording one out, but there was still meaning for the Phillies closer. He threw three pitches, induced a lazy fly ball to right field, and the 83d All-Star Game was over Tuesday as an 8-0 victory for the National League.
He turned toward home plate, pumped his fist, and hugged catcher Carlos Ruiz. It's a scene the Phillies and their fans thought they would see more frequently in 2012. This morbid season offered little hope at its halfway mark.
Papelbon wondered whether Tuesday was a fine omen.
"Get it done," Papelbon said to Ruiz. "That's what we need in the second half."
This Midsummer Classic was over before any Phillies even entered. Cole Hamels pitched a scoreless seventh inning, Ruiz was stable behind the plate, and Papelbon finished it.
It marked the first shutout in an All-Star Game since 1996 at Veterans Stadium and the largest margin of victory in one since 1983. So it was an uneventful night for most once Justin Verlander was pummeled for five runs in the first inning. Nonetheless, there was Hamels throwing to Ruiz in the seventh inning and Papelbon hugging Ruiz. Phillies fans could smile.
"It was really cool," Hamels said.
Reality lurks, though. That Hamels was placed next to Los Angeles' Clayton Kershaw in the National League clubhouse could have been coincidence, or a sinister move by design.
"It's funny how it works out," Hamels said. He snatched Kershaw's blue Dodgers cap and jokingly pretended to put it on his head.
In recent years, these All-Star Games were pertinent for the soaring Phillies because they wanted the assurance of home-field advantage come World Series time. Now, resigned to last place and three forthcoming weeks of trade rumors, they must hope their players aren't poached at the Midsummer Classic.
Hamels, an impending free agent, admitted that some of his teammates for the day made their pitches for him to eventually join their clubs. Kershaw was one of them.
"I've heard from everybody," Hamels said, smiling.
It's an annual rite of passage for those all-stars rumored to be dealt. Hunter Pence quizzed Roy Halladay at last year's game about what it would be like to play in Philadelphia. Cliff Lee made it a not-so-hidden secret at the game in 2010 that he would welcome a return after being traded.
Hamels was playful about it Tuesday, just as he has been during this entire process. He maintained his preference to remain in Philadelphia. But . . .
"Anybody that wants to win," Hamels said, "they've got a fair shot."
He was greeted in the seventh by Billy Butler, the hometown Royals' lone representative. The fans chanted Butler's name and flash bulbs popped with each swing. They cheered even when he bounced a 92-m.p.h. Hamels fastball to third. The inning was a breeze.
"He surprised me with the fastball," Ruiz said. "He threw 96 a few times. That was good to see."
Ruiz's time in his first All-Star Game lasted longer. Before the third inning began, Ruiz and R.A. Dickey walked to the bullpen together for extra time to practice the knuckleball.
Ruiz flubbed the final two warm-up pitches on the field when the duo entered in the sixth. He admitted there were nerves.
"It's not easy to catch," Ruiz said. There were no gaffes; Dickey said Ruiz handled one knuckleball "like he was catching with chopsticks."
The first batter to face Dickey was rookie Mike Trout of Millville, N.J., who promptly smacked the second knuckleball to center for a single and became the youngest player since Al Kaline in 1955 with a hit in the All-Star Game. Then the 20-year-old stole second base.
Dickey escaped with a Miguel Cabrera double-play ball on an 80-m.p.h. knuckleball. Ruiz pumped his fist. Two innings later, he caught Aroldis Chapman's 101-m.p.h. heat.
In his only at-bat, Ruiz flied to left against Oakland reliever Ryan Cook. Surrounded by reporters afterward, Ruiz was still dressed in his gray Phillies jersey when manager Tony La Russa came over to shake his hand.
"Buena suerte," La Russa said, wishing Ruiz good luck.
"Thank you," Ruiz said. The catcher is well aware that the Phillies need it.
"The first half is over," he said. "We'll start the second half and see what happens."