MINNEAPOLIS — Felix Hernandez was in line to get the win on Tuesday night, but his teammates couldn’t secure it for him and he had to settle for a no-decision.
To be fair, this time the circumstances were slightly different. This was the All-Star Game — a game that has slightly less meaning than a showdown with Oakland. Hernandez didn’t deliver seven or eight innings of baseball goodness only to see it slip away late because of bullpen issues or a lack of run support.
This time it was the best pitchers in the American League, who couldn’t hold the lead. This time it was the best hitters in the American League, hitters he terrorizes in the regular season, that couldn’t add the requisite insurance runs. So it was another no decision. But the ending was still happy for Hernandez.
The American League prevailed in the end, picking up a 5-3 victory at a packed Target Field.
“It was amazing,” Hernandez said. “One of the best experiences of my life. It was a special night for me and my family.”
So if the Mariners make it to the World Series, something that seems far less implausible than it did at the beginning of the season, he’ll be able to start Game 1 at Safeco Field with the home-field advantage.
“That works, doesn’t it?” said teammate Kyle Seager.
Under the scoring rules of the All-Star Game, Hernandez was in line to get the win after throwing a scoreless top of the first inning and his teammates giving him a 3-0 lead in the bottom of the inning.
Hernandez gave up an infield single to the ultra speedy Andrew McCutchen to start the game. McCutchen hit a bullet to shortstop where Derek Jeter was able to make a brilliant diving stop, but his throw was late.
Hernandez locked in, striking out Yasiel Puig and Troy Tulowitzki on nasty changeups and then getting Paul Goldschmidt to ground out to third to end his outing.
“I was a little nervous but felt good and settled in,” he said.
His teammates gave him three runs in the first inning. After a two-minute standing ovation, Derek Jeter lined the first pitch he saw from NL starter Adam Wainwright into right field for a double. The pitch from Wainwright was a belt-high, 90-mph cookie of a fastball that split the plate in half. Jeter didn’t miss it.
Wainwright admitted he eased up for Jeter.
“I was gonna give him a couple pipe shots. He deserved it,” Wainwright told reporters. “I didn’t know he was gonna hit a double or I might have changed my mind.”
NL manager Mike Matheny tried to defray that notion.
“I know that has been completely blown out of proportion and taken out of context,” Matheny said. “Anybody that knows anything about this guy knows that he’s one of the greatest competitors that played this game in a long time.”
Jeter scored on Mike Trout’s triple off the wall in right field and Miguel Cabrera followed with a line drive two-run homer over the wall in left field.
Jon Lester, a native of Puyallup and a graduate of Bellarmine Prep in Tacoma, replaced Hernandez after his one inning. He gave up two runs on RBI doubles to Chase Utley and Jonathan Lucroy. But it still kept Hernandez in line for the win. It became a no-decision in the fourth inning when Lucroy doubled off lefty Chris Sale to score the lightning-fast Dee Gordon all the way from first base.
Like in the regular season, Hernandez shrugged off not getting the win since his team won in the end.
“Sure, it would have been good,” he said. “But there’s some pretty good players on the other side, too. It was a fun night and I was happy how things went for me and the guys.”
The American League broke the 3-3 tie in the bottom of the fifth. Trout doubled home Derek Norris and Jose Altuve scored Alexei Ramirez with a deep sacrifice fly to left field.
The AL kept the 5-3 lead with seven pitchers, including Mariner Fernando Rodney, combining to work the final four innings without allowing a run.
But the night still belonged to Jeter. It was apparent in the days leading up to the game. Countless words were written about the narrative of his last All-Star Game in a storied career. When he singled to right field with his signature inside-out swing on a 94-mph fastball from Alfredo Simon in the third inning, it seemed to cement his status as the game’s MVP. However, Trout’s two extra-base hits and two RBI earned him the honor instead.
“I told you guys before, I’m not retiring at the end of the season because I don’t think I can play,” Jeter said. “It’s just the time is right.”
As promised, Farrell removed Jeter at the beginning of the fourth inning, replacing him with Ramirez. This allowed Jeter to jog off the field as the crowd of 41,048 stood and applauded. The ovation, which included the players on the field and in both dugouts, lasted well over five minutes, long enough for Jeter to hug all of his American League teammates and give an appreciated curtain call.
One of those applauding was his longtime teammate Robinson Cano, who got to start next to Jeter as they had done so many times in New York.
“It was fun,” he said. “That’s all I wanted to do was enjoy my time with him.”