The baseball joy in July continues! Last night, the American League won the Midsummer Classic, the MLB All-Star Game. In fact, it really wasn’t even a close game. The AL shut out the NL, 3-0, which ended a three-year losing streak! Prior to that streak, the AL pretty much owned the NL back to 1988, winning 18 of 22 (with one tie in ’02).
You are perhaps wondering why the American League is “us” and “we.” It’s simple. I’m a Minnesota Twins fan, and they’re in the AL (Central Division). And why the Twins? I lived here from 1960-1967 (my “Wonder Bread years”) and from 1984-present, so I’ve been a “Minnesnowtan” for 62% of my life. That’s reason enough.
What follows is a write up of notes I took during the game last night:
Could we please sing the The Star-Spangled Banner without all the excessive vocal flourishes demonstrating what an incredible singer you are? A little variation is fine, but this one isn’t about you. Do us all a favor (I know I’m not alone in this); sing it closer to straight.
On a related topic (and to get the complaints out of the way), mugging for the camera during the singing of America the Beautiful shows a serious lack of class. It ruined the tone of the song and showed disrespect for the moment. Shame on you. At other times, say during Neil Diamond‘s Sweet Caroline, it’s fun; go for it! Have some awareness of context is all I’m saying.
What a pleasure watching these great players who are usually fierce and feared opponents. Being able to cheer for Miguel “Miggy” Cabrera, Chris Davis and Mariano Rivera is a delight. Usually I’m hoping they have a bad day!
The National League players are still opponents, of course. That’s only a conflict with former Twin Michael “Cuddy” Cuddyer. He was a much-loved player as a Twin; he’s one of those “great guys” in baseball. He’s having a career season this year with the Colorado Rockies; that’s what got him to the All-Star Game and the Home Run Derby.
You might not realize that baseball players, within what’s possible, pick their jersey number. Often they select the number of a former player who had great influence on them. In Colorado, Cuddy wears #3 to honor former Minnesota Twin Harmon Killebrew. (In the Twins franchise, that number is retired to honor the great Hall of Famer.)
Tonight’s game marks some entries in the history books. The amazing Yankees closing pitcher, Mariano Rivera, is retiring after this year (while still in the prime of his career). This was his last All-Star Game! This also marks the most first-time players (39?) picked to play.
One bad moment: Yankee Robinson Canó took a pitch just above the knee and ended up leaving the game. As one of the few uninjured Yankees this season, that put a lump in the throats of Yankee fans. (None of us likes watching moments like that, regardless of your nominal feelings for the team (or even player). Turns out he’ll be A-Okay!)
There were some cute filmed segments honoring New York City and baseball. I liked the subway graphic showing all the stadiums, past and present. I just loved the “Most Interesting Man in the World” pastiche they did starring Miggy Cabrera. The Dos Equis commercials are my all-time favorites, and they did a pretty good version.
After three years of disappoint, this game was a pleasure. Scoreless through the first three innings, the AL still got hits. In fact, the very first batter, Mike Trout, hit a double on Matt Harvey‘s very first pitch! The next batter, Canó, was hit by that pitch. (Two men on, no outs!)
Then we made three quick outs to end the first inning. That ended the hitting until the fourth inning when we were off again. Cabrera’s lead-off double became a run, and the AL was on the board. We got another run in the fifth. Meanwhile, the NL got only one hit (and no runs) through five.
The smooth ride got a little bumpy in the sixth. Oakland Athletics pitcher Grant Balfour seemed to have trouble throwing strikes to right-handed batters and walked Cuddyer. But he got out the next two lefties and then struck out a rightie to end the inning.
It isn’t unusual for a game’s character to change entirely around the fifth, sixth or seventh inning. You can break a game into thirds of three innings each, and it’s very much like a good cigar. The first third doesn’t tell you much, although in some cases something can be so dominating that the character is immediately announced.
The middle third, not unlike the middle book in many trilogies, is often just a bridge between the first and last parts. If the starting pitcher has lasted into the fourth inning, he’s usually having a good day and will have his rhythm down.
But the last third often changes direction. The pitcher has gotten tired and perhaps been left in the game a bit too long. Or the opposing batters have figured him out by now. Or he has been replaced, but the new guy hasn’t got his rhythm yet. Several windows of opportunity open as the last third begins.
So, if my team is winning—but not by a large margin—I get nervous in the last third. (If my team is losing, then I get hopeful!) Fortunately, the bumps in the sixth were minor and harmless. We got through the seventh using three different pitchers and giving up one more hit. Tonight, it wasn’t until the eighth that I began to think, “Okay, maybe we got this.” (But my anus didn’t fully unpucker until we got at least one out in the ninth.)
Mariano “Mo” Rivera pitched the eighth! Usually, as closer, he would pitch the ninth (and typically only in a save situation). He pitched here to ensure that he did pitch for the New York crowd. AL Manager, Jim Leyland (Detroit), also really wanted to win this game. He plan to make it to the World Series, so he cares about getting home field advantage. He brought in Rivera to insure keeping the lead.
If you’ve seen Major League and remember how Charlie Sheen‘s character, the hot pitcher, entered the game—rock music blaring, the crowd going bananas—well, it was exactly like that when “Mo” came into the game.
I couldn’t help thinking about what it takes to live up to all that. How does anyone? But Rivera is one of the special ones, a truly great baseball player. He’s the last one wearing #42, Jackie Robinson‘s jersey number, which has been retired all across baseball. Players currently wearing #42 when they retired it continued wearing it until they left the game (or the team). “Mo” is the last one.
[How awesome is it for a science fiction baseball fan that 42 is the most revered number in baseball? It seems to suggest that baseball must be the ultimate sport.]
I do have another complaint. Fox’s interview of Rivera during the game right after he pitched was a shitty move on two levels. Let the man be with his team and bask in what he’s just done. And let me watch the game, please!
Look, most interviews with sports figures are banal in the extreme. In sit-down interviews, you can get at interesting things, but game field interviews are pointless wastes of time. They’re all meaninglessly the same: I’m happy to be here. I’m glad to help the team. Yadda, yadda, yadda.
While I’m complaining again, all this fawning over Rivera is numbing. He’s one of the greatest, yes, and a definite future Hall of Famer, yes, and he deserves every bit of the adulation. But it’s starting overwhelm. If one more interviewer asks him how he feels about retiring, I may start screaming. (The Twins gave him a rocking chair made of bats broken due to his awesome cut fastball. That was a pretty cool idea!)
Can some baseball fan tell me why, after Prince Fielder’s triple in the ninth, he wasn’t replaced with a pinch runner? Plenty of players left on the bench, and it’s a shame for them to not play. It’s not that Prince can’t run; he totally can. It’s more that a lot of players didn’t get a chance to play. (More so than normal, I thought. Leyland’s first goal was winning. Giving the all-stars time to play was secondary.)
In contrast to the Home Run Derby Monday night, the All-Star Game was dominated by excellent pitching, so there wasn’t much hitting. Fielder’s was the only triple, there were no homers, and only a handful of doubles (it was nice that David Wright, as one of the key “faces” of the ASG, got one of those hits).