The All-Star Game returned to its 20th-century roots Tuesday night, pitting the two leagues against each other with absolutely nothing on the line.
And when nothing really mattered, nothing much happened until the end when Robinson Cano homered off Cubs closer Wade Davis in the top of the 10th inning to give the American League a 2-1 win.
Power pitching mostly trumped power hitting until Cano’s blow, with 23 strikeouts, including 14 American Leaguers, and only three extra-base hits. Most of the pitchers threw in the mid-to-upper 90s, simply overpowering the hitters.
“It’s pretty incredible isn’t it?” said National League manager Joe Maddon of the Cubs. “Not only that, but with command too, for the most part.
“Look at the gun readings, they’re very high, plus a little bit of an adrenaline rush playing in an All-Star Game like that.”
A crowd of 37,188 mostly sat on its hands, perhaps a hangover effect from Monday night’s Home Run Derby, which eclipsed the All-Star Game in hype and interest thanks to Aaron Judge’s moon shots.
The game was tied heading into the 10th, with Miguel Sano’s RBI single in the fifth giving the AL the lead and Yadier Molina hitting a game-tying home run in the sixth.
Perhaps the game’s signature moment occurred in the sixth when Nelson Cruz paused before his at-bat to ask NL catcher Molina to take a picture of him and plate umpire Joe West.
It was the baseball equivalent of Ellen Degeneres’ Oscars selfie, with “Cowboy Joe” in the unlikely role of Bradley Cooper.
Molina obliged, then smacked the game-tying homer off Ervin Santana in the bottom of the inning to awaken the crowd momentarily.
“I would bet if that game had counted he wouldn’t have done that,” Maddon said. “But overall I just thought the overall intensity of the game was very good, right down to the very last out. Spectacular pitching on both sides.”
As for the Chicago connection, White Sox outfielder Avisail Garcia lined out to left in the seventh and struck out to end the top of the ninth, and Davis wasn’t going to get in unless it went into extras.
“I was pitching the 10th inning, and I didn’t expect it to go 10 innings,” Davis said. “But I got in there and it was fun.”
The decision to ditch former Commissioner Bud Selig’s nutty idea of giving home-field advantage in the World Series to the representative from the winning league meant more fun could be had without either of the managers _ Maddon and Indians coach Brad Mills _ worrying about messing anything up.
“Best record in baseball should have home-field advantage no matter what,” Nationals star Bryce Harper said. “That’s definitely good.”
This was supposed to be the game when Judge established himself as the face of baseball. Commissioner Rob Manfred pointed out that the ratings for Monday’s Home Run Derby were the highest since 2009, adding, “I really take no credit for this.”
None needed, commish. It was all about Judge.
Things got a little out of hand before Tuesday’s game when someone asked Judge if he ever thought of himself as the “next Babe Ruth.” Not even Sammy Sosa would have bitten on that one.
“Nah, I just think of myself as a little kid from Linden, California, getting to live the dream right now,” Judge replied.
Judge may have had some fun, but he didn’t make much contact against Max Scherzer, Carlos Martinez and Alex Wood, going 0-for-3 with a strikeout, groundout and flyout to centre.
It was only a couple of years ago that Harper was in Judge’s shoes, a young phenom with perfectly coiffed hair and a swagger befitting the new breed of bat-flipping, homer-gazing players.
With the game devoid of any offense early on, Harper made a running catch to rob Salvador Perez of a two-out hit in the second inning, then fell forward to the grass as his cap flew off his head.
Once he righted himself, Harper flicked his head back so his hair perfectly flipped backward, as if he was starring in a commercial for his favourite shampoo-and-conditioner-in-one.
The only thing missing was Harper whipping out a phone and taking a selfie.
Wait till next year.
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