Maybe Vladimir Guerrero Jr. should have been an All-Star too.
The rookie third baseman of the Toronto Blue Jays hit 91 home runs during the Home Run Derby that preceded the Tuesday night All-Star Game in Cleveland but could only sit and watch as his seniors produced a paltry assault on National League pitchers.
Another Latino rookie, Pete Alonso of the New York Mets, at least had a chance; he was on the NL roster as a reserve first baseman behind Freddie Freeman and Josh Bell. But the freshman slugger, on track to break the Aaron Judge rookie record of 52 home runs, did not connect in Cleveland after winning the $1 million top prize in the Home Run Derby.
The unexpected power shortage Tuesday yielded predictable results.
With managers Alex Cora and Dave Roberts hanging pitchers every inning, the assembled sluggers hardly got a good look at any of them.
Instead of copying the 10-homer, 10-inning, 8-6 slugfest that captivated fans in the nation’s capital, this year’s All-Stars limped to a final tally similar to the 3-1 score from the last Cleveland All-Star Game, played during a tornado watch in 1997. The Americans won that one, yielding only a pinch-hit solo home run by Javy Lopez in his first All-Star at-bat.
Even the notorious drummer who deafens the fans at Progressive Field with his constant pounding seemed to quit early.
The power vacuum was a surprise. Earlier Tuesday, USA TODAY columnist Bob Nightengale reported that the game is on pace for 6,657 home runs, 307 of them by the Minnesota Twins alone. Both would be major-league marks.
In addition to the Twins, another 15 teams would set new club records for homers if present trends continue, the article said. Teams are averaging 2.74 home runs per game before the All-Star break.
In the game Tuesday, the American League plated solo runs against Dodger pitchers Clayton Kershaw and Walker Buehler, respectively, in the second and fifth innings.
In the second, the AL got a one-out infield single from Houston’s Alex Bregman, last year’s All-Star Game MVP, and a double to left-center by Astros teammate Michael Brantley one out later.
Yankees catcher Gary Sanchez socked a leadoff double in the fifth, moved to third on an infield grounder, and scored on an infield hit by another Latino, Jorge Polanco of the Minnesota Twins.
The National League, seeking to forge a 44-44-2 tie in All-Star results, mustered only four hits through the first six innings but one of them was Charlie Blackmon’s two-out solo homer in the sixth against Oakland’s Liam Hendriks.
The AL got two runs back in the seventh when a walk and a single with nobody out put runners on the corners. The lead runner then scored on a double-play grounder before Texas slugger Joey Gallo hit a first-pitch homer against lefty reliever Will Smith of the Giants.
Cleveland closer Brad Hand, another southpaw, got a rousing ovation from the partisan Cleveland crowd when he entered the game in the eighth. Cora made liberal use of all the Indians on his roster, including starting first baseman Carlos Santana, shortstop Francisco Lindor, pitcher Shane Bieber, and Hand.
Hand didn’t handle himself well, yielding two walks sandwiched around a single that put the tying runs on base with one out. But he fanned Blackmon, bringing Alonso to the plate with a chance to be a hero for the second night in a row. He doubled to center, scoring one run and prolonging the inning, but failed in a bid to join Fred Lynn as authors of grand-slams in All-Star play.
With runners on second and third, Mike Moustakas ended the threat with a pop foul that catcher James McCann caught with a lunging stretch.
Yankees closer Aroldis Chapman, who pitched a perfect ninth, saved the 4-3 win for the AL. After he retired the first two hitters, teammate CC Sabathia, who began his career in Cleveland, visited the mound, giving the locals another thing to cheer about.
Versatile Dodger slugger Max Muncy made the defensive play of the game with one out in the sixth, grabbing a Carlos Santana shot destined for center field and firing to Alonso, who left his feet to grab the ball on a bounce. The play drew boos from the partisan Cleveland crowd, who were rooting for the Indians first baseman (and American League cleanup man) to reach base.
Local favorite Shane Bieber, who threw one shutout inning, was voted All-Star Game MVP, a prize that include a bright red Chevrolet.
By the time the game ended, the sell-out crowd had long forgotten starting pitchers Justin Verlander, an eight-time All-Star and the oldest man in the game at 36, and Dodger lefty Hyun-Jin Ryu, the first South Korean to start the Midsummer Classic. American League manager Alex Cora was bench coach of the 2017 Astros when they won the World Series after acquiring Verlander from Detroit in a mid-season swap.
Cleveland has hosted five previous All-Star Games, in 1935, 1954, 1963, 1981, and 1997. The 1981 game, delayed until August 9 because of a midseason player strike, drew a record crowd of 72,000 to Municipal Stadium, then the home park of the Indians.
The American League has now won seven straight All-Star Games and 19 of the last 23. Next year’s game will be played at Dodger Stadium, with the 2021 contest set for Atlanta’s Sun Trust Park.
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