NEW YORK — They keep score at the All-Star game these days, especially over the last 11 seasons with home-field advantage in the World Series at stake. But this packed-house night of baseball ritual is also, and perhaps always foremost, an exhibition that highlights dream matchups and individual moments of skill that elevate what otherwise might be a fairly mundane contest.
So, welcome to the 2013 All-Star Game. That’s 1913, in its dead-ball-days style, more than 2013. The American League won, 3-0; its runs did not really score on a sacrifice fly by Ty Cobb, an infield ground out by Stuffy McInnis and a misplayed flyball by Casey Stengel. It just felt that way.
Actually, Jose Bautista’s lazy fly brought home the great Miguel Cabrera, who had doubled while J.J. Hardy’s forceout scored Baltimore teammate Adam Jones, who had doubled. And the Philadelphia Phillies’ Domonic Brown butchered a Jason Kipnis liner as badly as the Ol’ Professor ever botched one for Brooklyn. At least Casey put a sparrow under his hat to release when the crowd booed him. He bowed, doffed his hat and give ‘em … the bird.
This game, for all its postseason weight, will probably be remembered for brief moments, like 101-mph fastballs from Aroldis Chapman of the Reds and a throw from behind third by Manny Machado that looked like a big whip crack with a ball exploding from it and blazing across the infield.
Prince Fielder even tripled with a 275-pound belly-flop into third base.
No moment, however, will match the last time “Enter Sandman” is played in an All-Star game for Mariano Rivera. The AL dugout emptied and cheered for Mo in the bottom of the eighth. The NL stayed put. At least, safe in their dugout, he couldn’t break their bats with his cutter — yet. His first and last outs of a 1-2-3 inning were, suitably, on weak grounders. With tears in his glistening eyes on the mound, Rivera still painted the black then teased hitters into chasing his futile shades of gray.
One AL star, Alex Gordon, actually lamented that he was on the same team with immortal Mariano. “I just want to get one hit off that cutter in my career,” said Gordon, lifetime average .000 vs. Mo. “I already have about 10 broken bats against him.”
Since no batter on either team had more than one hit, run or RBI, and no pitcher worked more than two shutout innings, the game’s MVP was Rivera because … why not? Thousands of fans in a NL park stayed after the game to cheer the award ceremony behind second base. Thus Mo iced his status as perhaps the only Yank who has ever united every New York fan.
From the start this game offered more special moments than melodrama — including the very first pitch. AL leadoff man Mike Trout may be the only player here who seems unfazed by the Mets budding myth, Matt Harvey, the Dark Knight of Gotham. “Haven’t seen him, not going to watch film. Just have fun. It’s cool to face him,” said Trout, for whom those constitute long sentences. As usual, he omitted the word “I.”
That symbolic match lasted four-tenths of a second: one 97-mph fastball, a double smoked over the first base bag into the corner and a head-first Trout slide into second base. Game on, American League style.
The anguish in the crowd of 45,186 quickly turned to elbow-in-ribs chuckles when Harvey’s third pitch drilled Hated Yankee Robinson Cano above the right knee. So, with the game barely begun, the second prime confrontation arrived — Harvey against the Detroit Tigers’ Miguel Cabrera, who leads the majors in batting (.365), RBI (95), runs, hits and is second in homers (30). In other words, a typical prime season for Lou Gehrig.
“It’s like Cabrera is playing Little League against the rest of us,” Gordon said.
“Cabrera is the best player in baseball,” Colorado Rockies shortstop Troy Tulowitzki said “No doubt. Up with the greats. That should be anyone’s answer.”
So, Harvey combined perfect and proper respect — five straight off-speed pitches, three sliders and two change-ups — to get the ideal result, a swinging strikeout of Cabrera. That, perhaps, illustrates what makes Harvey stand so tall, so quickly. He’d thrown only three fastballs and had no feel, presumably, for his secondary pitches. Yet he hit his spots to Cabrera.
Thus acclimated, Harvey retired the next six straight, including Jose Bautista and Jones on strikes, to satisfy Mets fans need for affirmation.
“It was so much fun,” Harvey said. “Being in New York and starting as a kid, I don’t think you could have dreamed of doing something like that.”
Cabrera, the 2012 AL Triple Crown winner, may be muted at times, but he is seldom silent for long. This season, he’s on pace to top all of his ‘12 marks of 44 homers, 139 RBI and a .330 average.
Normal players peak in their late 20s then tail off. But the greatest players often do roughly equal damage before and after 30, a birthday Cabrera didn’t reach until this April. So, if his 240 pounds don’t slow him with age, he might hit about 650 homers and reach 2,200 RBI.
“Just to be mentioned in the same conversation with Cabrera is an honor,” said the Baltimore Orioles’ Chris Davis, the only man with more homers (37). “He never looks like he is off balance, never trying to do too much, yet he generates so much power to all fields. That’s the one thing I try to copy.”
In the fourth inning, Arizona Diamondbacks lefty Patrick Corbin (11-1) got ahead of Cabrera 0-2 and made him swing so awkwardly that he threw his bat into the third base box seats. But Corbin threw the same pitch twice — his slider. The second time Cabrera saw it, he seemed be caught on his front foot, yet kept his balance and hit a line drive up the right field gap for a double off the Xerox sign, appropriate for a man who dupes extra base hits.
In the bottom of the inning, however, Cabrera showed he’s a decent third baseman, despite his size. After throwing out Brandon Phillips on a slow hopper, he turned to his infield mates, hands up as if to say, “How about a little love for the glove?”
One element of All-Star games may be neglected in baseball is the pure flash play. The NL’s Brandon Phillips tried to set a new record. “I want to do some crazy double plays with [Tulowitzki],” said Phillips before the game. “I’m always thinking, ‘What can I do to kill the game today.’ “
The result: a Phillips forceout flip to Tulo behind his back, then a barehand-only pivot to turn a double play on the double-play-proof Trout.
Over the years, this game may get little love, except for Mo’s Memento. That’s fair. But this night had its share of twinkle. You just had to look.