MIAMI – Plenty of strikeouts. Not many runs. The only thing that made Tuesday’s doesn’t-count-for-home-field-advantage-in-the-World Series incarnation of Major League Baseball’s All-Star Game different than others of recent vintage was that a player brought his phone onto the field and asked the catcher to snap a candid with an umpire.
Outside of Seattle Mariners designated hitter Nelson Cruz posing for a pre-at-bat picture with home-plate ump Joe West, the 88th version of the All-Star Game was rather ho-hum until the 10th inning, when Robinson Cano’s solo home run propelled the American League to a 2-1 victory over the National League and tied the all-time series between the leagues at 43 wins apiece (and two ties).
Cano stole the game’s MVP honors from St. Louis Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina, whose game-tying home run in the sixth inning only added to the case made earlier when he took the Cruz-West photo. The grin-a-minute Cruz seeking out West, who recently umpired his 5,000th career game, made for a nice picture within a picture. It also showed that after 14 years of counting for home field following the embarrassing tie of 2002, the All-Star Game could embrace shenanigans as the only stakes were a $20,000 bonus for winning players.
AL manager Brad Mills, filling in for convalescing Cleveland manager Terry Francona, did a televised interview with a wad of gum and a deflated bubble on his head. Alex Rodriguez interviewed players on the field for Fox, while others held conversations with broadcasters in the booth. Kenley Jansen giggled to himself after he tried to throw a quick pitch and got called by West for a balk. It was relaxed. It was playful. In tone, at least, it was what an All-Star Game should be.
The play wasn’t exactly scintillating, with the teams combining for 22 strikeouts and 29 runners left on base as managers shuffled in and out the hodgepodge of pitchers that have become standard fare for the contest. The liberty taken by managers to turn the game into a participation-trophy event during the this-time-it-counts era did not go away Tuesday, as Mills and National League manager Joe Maddon of the Chicago Cubs liberally subbed hitters and pitchers alike.
Both offenses staggered accordingly, and it took Cano’s home run off Cubs closer Wade Davis – the only player representing the defending champions – to snap the extra-innings tie. Cleveland reliever Andrew Miller shut down the NL in the bottom of the 10th for the save.
The AL had lurched ahead 1-0 in the fifth inning on the strength – relatively speaking – of a 200-foot RBI pop-up down the right-field line that was so poorly hit the batter, Miguel Sano, didn’t even bother running before he realized it might stay fair.
It held up for an inning, until Molina took a 95-mph fastball from Ervin Santana, Sano’s teammate with the Minnesota Twins, out to the opposite field. His celebration as he rounded the bases personified the happy-go-lucky nature of the players in the game.
Fans weren’t quite as enthused, leaving rows of empty seats by the eighth inning, a far cry from Monday night, when Aaron Judge’s stirring Home Run Derby performance left the stadium buzzing every bit as much as the baseball world. It wasn’t the most memorable All-Star Game, by any means, but it was a more-than-welcome return to a new normal, where an exhibition was just that.
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