SAN DIEGO — If you listened to the FOX commentators Tuesday night during the 2016 MLB All-Star Game, you would have noticed their comments about Royals hitters swinging hard early in counts for power and backing off for average with two strikes. This innocent comment proved truly clairvoyant, as Kansas City All-Stars Eric Hosmer and Salvador Perez each hit a home run in a 1-1 count in the second inning to power the American League to victory over the National League 4-2 on a beautiful night at Petco Park.
A Kris Bryant solo home run in the visiting half of the first gave the National League an early 1-0 lead. Bryant, who seems destined to rise into the conversation with Mike Trout and Bryce Harper for best player in the game after a brilliant first half, said hello to the Petco Park crowd with a true bang. It was evocative of the revelation he has been for the Cubs in his rookie and sophomore seasons.
After the Hosmer (solo) and Perez (two-run) home runs, the National League attempted to cut the deficit or tie in the top of the 4th. After a Carlos Gonzalez leadoff single, an Addison Russell fly-out, a Ben Zobrist fielder’s choice, and a Bryce Harper double, NL hero-of-the-game-so-far Bryant came to the plate for the second time, looking to make it a night, this time with runners at 2nd and 3rd. He worked AL pitcher Cole Hamels, who was throwing especially well, to a 3-2 count, before striking out on a changeup. Bryant was badly fooled on the pitch, a masterful one from Hamels, who utilized it dominantly in tandem with his fastball. In fact, Hamels only threw fastballs and changeups to Bryant, and they were all he needed.
Hosmer, named MVP after the game, rounded out the AL scoring with an RBI single in the bottom of the third.
Also in the bottom of the third, one of the pre-game storylines, David Ortiz’s final appearance at the Midsummer Classic, came to its nexus, as Ortiz was substituted out for Edwin Encarnacion after earning a one-out walk. After Ortiz briefly (emphasis on the briefly) soaked in his ovation from the fans, he greeted his AL All-Star teammates, who each stepped out of the dugout and onto the field to honor him. He embraced them one by one, and then simply returned to the dugout. The moment, brief as it was, was over. Truly, it lacked the pomp and circumstance of a Derek Jeter or Mariano Rivera final All-Star game appearance, but perhaps that was how Ortiz wanted it. Though he loves the fans and has endeared himself to them, he loves most being with the players, and perhaps he wanted the focus, as well as his focus, to be on them.
Of note was his mid-game interview with FOX’s Ken Rosenthal, where he opened up about some of the reasons for his retirement: namely, general fatigue and difficulty in continuing to go about the grind of the 162-game MLB season. This sportswriter believed him. This season would certainly be a veritable swan song, and a fitting one for Ortiz, one of the greatest designated hitters of all time. It is doubtful that Boston will be able to replace his energy, and, of course, his Hall-of-Fame production, especially in the clutch.
Continuing with the game, NL starting center fielder Marcell Ozuna singled home Buster Posey in the fourth to finalize the scoring for both the NL and the game. From the sixth inning onward, the AL shut the door with relief pitching from Kelvin Herrera, Dellin Betances, Andrew Miller, and Zach Britton. Miller ran into trouble in the eighth, allowing singles to Jonathan Lucroy and Starling Marte and a 3-2 walk to Adam Duvall. Interestingly enough, as dominant as Miller was against the two lefties he faced, Jay Bruce and Brandon Belt, he did not retire a single right-handed batter. Credit the NL All-Stars—I would not want to try to hit that slider. Lucroy, in fact, obtained his base hit on a slider after lining a home-run distance foul ball down the left-field line off another slider. They were both hangers, but still. Indeed, when Miller had to get sliders in the strike zone, he did—and they were pretty hittable when he did. The sliders had tremendous movement, but also tremendous location (from the hitters’ perspective).
All of this mattered not, however, as Miller was pulled for Houston closer Will Harris, an unsung AL hero in this game. Harris faced Cardinals rookie Aledmys Diaz, who took him to a 3-2 count before striking out on a low cutter that nicked the outside corner.
This ended the National League threat, and put them out of striking distance. In the ninth, Daniel Murphy led off with a base hit, but Paul Goldschimdt grounded into a force-out and Nolan Arenado grounded into a game-ending double play. Arenado seemed to have trouble getting up the line, as his ground ball was not hit particularly hard to AL third baseman Josh Donaldson, but he was thrown out by a significant margin at first. It was not a particularly quick turn at second, either.
OTHER GAME NOTES
- Ortiz, in his final All-Star Game, went 0 for 1 with a walk, but it was a hard 0 for 1. In the first inning, he smashed a ground ball down the first base line that was brilliantly gloved by Anthony Rizzo. If not for the spectacular play from Rizzo, Ortiz would have evened the score with at least an RBI double, considering that Mike Trout was on first.
- Jose Fernandez claimed pregame that he would groove three straight low-velocity fastballs to David Ortiz in hopes of guaranteeing Ortiz a home run in his final All-Star Game. Quoth the Marlin, “I told him yesterday that I am going to throw him three fastballs down the middle. I want to watch him hit a home run.” He added assurance that he would not bring the heat, as he usually does: “”No, [I’m going to throw them] 90 miles per hour,” Fernandez said. “So there is no chance that he fouls them or misses them.” When it came time to play the game, however, Fernandez got cold feet, enticing Ortiz with a first pitch changeup, followed by three consecutive 95 mph fastballs (Ortiz fouled numbers two and three). The at-bat lasted seven pitches and ended with an 83 mph curveball in the dirt. Fernandez and Ortiz had a laugh as Ortiz trotted down the line to first. Those who value the integrity of the All-Star Game, which determines home-field advantage for the World Series, smiled as well.
- Ortiz was pulled from the game immediately after the walk (only one out in the inning), making his already abrupt exit even more abrupt. While competition junkies were happy Fernandez did not get his wish of an Ortiz home run, Big Papi’s run did score later in the inning, as Encarnacion was batted in by Hosmer.
- Edwin Encarnacion is now officially a pinch-runner. If you haven’t done it already, let that sink in. I get why they did it, but still. This is Edwin Encarnacion we’re talking about.
Though it would be hard to match the caliber of the players in the game, the scenery and surroundings certainly did their best. Though the game could not physically be played on a beach, the coastal California vibe that permeates San Diego permeated this All-Star game. All the major networks’ telecasts throughout the three-day festival of baseball were interspersed with shots of beautiful beaches in the area, the San Diego Marina, or the famously scenic Torrey Pines Golf Course. There were also plenty of glamour shots of the architectural star of the show, twelve-and-a-half-year-old Petco Park, whose design was inspired by the Torrey Pines course itself. The Park at the Park was spotlighted, as well as its centerpiece, a statue of the beloved Tony Gwynn. They have a lot of great ideas at that ballpark, and they really did it up nicely for the All-Star Game.
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