People talk about how the all-star game used to be a bigger deal. It used to be a special chance for fans all over the country to see the great players on other teams or in other leagues that they've only heard about. But allegedly, many things have ruined it. National television, mlb.tv, interleague play, and the general lack of sepia in modernity have all stolen its charm. Fans can now see the whoever they want, whenever they want.
Well, I for one, am glad for the match of progress, but here's a little confession—I use my mlb.tv to watch the Rays, and I only watch the Rays. I know the American League East well, I know most of the AL well enough, and I couldn't recognize Matt Harvey if he shoved a microphone in my face on the street. So I still treasure the all-star game. It's a time that breaks me out of being a Rays fan and back into being a baseball fan. I love when I get/am forced to watch the rest of the league. Here is the view from Tampa Bay.
Matt Harvey started for the national league, and I'm no scout, but I guess I understand what all the fuss is about. His stuff really is on another level. Still, Mike Trout jumped on the first pitch of the game, a 97 mph fastball, and ripped it down the first base line and into the corner for a leadoff double. Harvey then threw Robinson Cano a 97 mph fastball away, and then drilled him on the knee at 96 mph. While Yankee fans collectively held their breath, Cano went to first base and elected to stay in. One batter later, he (or the AL training staff) changed his mind, and hobbled off the field, giving Harvey a wink as he passed the mound.
Harvey settled down against the best hitter in baseball though, and showed the breadth of his repertoire. He alternated between 87 mph changeups and 91 mph sliders, eventually striking out Miguel Cabrera with a slider. He next showed Chris Davis his heat, but then took the power out of his bat with a changeup for a weak fly to center field.
In the second inning, Harvey continued his dominant ways, but there was one pitch in particular that caught my eye. Harvey has a pretty excellent sinker, with great dive and run. He threw it frontdoor to David Ortiz, jamming him and inducing a soft fly ball. It was the exact same pitch Roberto Hernandez has thrown so much this season (very similar movement), only five miles per hour faster, which makes it not at all the same pitch.
Max Scherzer, starting the all-star game for the American League, only pitched one inning and he started out a bit less impressively than Harvey. By the his third batter, though, he had ramped things up, and his sequence to Joey Votto was beautiful. A 78 mph curve on the inside corner for a strike, a 96 mph fastball on the outside corner for a strike, 98 mph fouled off, and then a 99 mph fastball on the outside corner right at the bottom of the zone for a strikeout looking of the best hitter in the National League.
Chris Sale pitched the second inning for the AL, and looked every bit as dominant as Harvey. He got Carlos Gonzalez to swing six inches above a low breaking ball, and then struck him out on a slider at least a foot outside. The all-star game is a reminder of just how good the best starting pitchers are, especially when they only need to do a reliever's job. Chris Sale is a first rate starter, but he could also be converted into the greatest LOOGY of all time. Just something to think about when talking about relievers and value.
In the fourth inning, the AL got on the board against Patrick Corbin of the Arizona Diamondbacks. Miguel Cabrera, after letting go of his bat and flinging it into the stands, knocked a double into the right-center gap, and then advanced to third on a Chris Davis single that glanced just off the edge of Votto's glove. Corbin managed to jam Joey Bautista, but Bautista was able to muscle the pitch far enough into center field to get in the run. The next inning, the AL scored in much the same way with an Adam Jones double, a Joe Mauer single just off a diving Troy Tulowitzki's glove, and a sacrifice grounder form J.J. Hardy (who beat out a possible double play).
That gave a two run lead to Matt Moore in the fifth inning, who represented the Rays competently. He didn't light up the radar gun, but he did his job, locating 92-94 mph fastballs and then generating weak contact with his changeups. He left the curve in his pocket tonight.
The AL would tack on another run in the eighth inning, making Mariano's last appearance in an all-star game rather less intense than befits a closer of his caliber.
Some other notes:
- The Rays own Ron Porterfield was apparently the American League trainer. I'm sure he's very deserving, but how is this chosen?
- Jose Fernandez of the Marlins, has a really, really nice breaking ball. In the low to mid 80s, it's got really sharp vertical bite to go with sweeping motion, and in this game at least, he was able to throw it for strikes at the bottom of the zone. In a game filled with great pitches, his curve jumped off the screen at me, and also apparently at Chris Davis, who he made look quite silly.
- In the bottom of the seventh inning, Paul Goldschmidt bounced a groundball down the third base line that Manny Machado fielded and threw to first in time to get Goldschmidt by a step. Tim McCarver said, "I don't know anyone else in the game who makes that play." Now, I love Machado. He's a great third baseman, and he'll make a great shortstop, so I won't complain too much. Let's just put it this way. I know someone else in the game today who makes that play.
- In the middle of the eighth inning, the broadcast stayed around to watch Mariano Rivera come in to the dulcet tones of Metallica, and receive a standing ovation from all the players and the Citi Field crowd. I like to complain about the constant slathering of attention on Yankees players, but it was a genuinely cool moment.
- Now some complaining about the slathering of attention on Yankees players. McCarver explained how Rivera became the greatest closer of all time. What's the amazing secret that made him so unique and was a turning point in his career? He learned to throw his cutter to BOTH sides of the plate.
- In the third inning, McCarver talked about how Troy Tulowitzki, like Derek Jeter, is the type of player who wants the ball hit to him for the last out in game seven of the world series. I guess that's still a compliment in some circles, but the two are not comparable fielders, and it was strange to bring up Jeter (who was of course not playing in this game) at all. Troy Tulowitzki is not exactly a new, unknown player who baseball fans need to be introduced to. For the last out of game seven of the world series, I might want the ball hit to Jeter, but not hit a few feet to either side of him. With Tulo, anywhere in his general vicinity will do.
- Speaking of shortstops, I was really impressed by how Jean Segura looked in the field. He's very compact, and he has quick feet. His movements are both smooth and purposeful. So far, UZR doesn't love him, but I'd be surprised if that continues as he gets further into his career.
- In the top of the ninth inning, Prince Fielder hit a triple. He lined to short right field and Pedro Gomez tried to make a diving catch, but it got under his glove and past him. Matt Carpenter hustled after it from second base to prevent the inside the park home run. Prince was unable to score on two groundballs despite the National League fielders not playing in. Question: If Leyland was managing to win the game, as he said he was, why did he not pinch run for Prince?
- Another question: If Leyland was managing to win the game, as he said he was, why did he play Torii Hunter in center field? Hunter hasn't been a center fielder for three years, and he hasn't been an above average one for eight years (by UZR).
- Let's try one more. If Leyland was managing to win the game, as he said he was, why did he play Nelson Cruz in right field in a save situation in the ninth? He's awful, as his route on Goldschmidt's fly ball double showed. There were at least a few good right fielders available to him. Like Torii Hunter, or well, Ben Zobrist. Luckily for the AL, Joe Nathan is good, so none of this mattered.