Friday, July 18, 2014
The All-Star Game: Groovin’
"Democracy," H.L. Mencken postulated famously (or infamously, depending upon your point of view), "[is] that form of government whereby the common people know what they want and deserve to get it, good and hard." Tuesday night's All-Star Game could be considered evidence that common and uncommon people alike knew what they wanted and got what they deserved, good and hard.
The meaninglessness of every team being represented in a game to which World Series home field advantage is pegged, whether or not the representatives are the best in the business until this point this season. The fans voting Derek Jeter to the starting lineup on behalf of his final season, never mind that he's been serviceable for the Yankees but nowhere near the best in the American League this season. And Adam Wainwright (Cardinals) offering Jeter a going-away present that put his league, and very possibly his own team, at a potential October disadvantage.
Makes you fear what's to come when the next future Hall of Famer declares his farewell season.
There's no question that Jeter deserved tribute at the Game. There should also be no question that it shouldn't have included leading off for the American League. Nobody except the most recalcitrant Yankee fans would have gainsaid a nice pre-game ceremony and hoopla and, perhaps, inserting Jeter into the game about midway through. Jeter himself certainly wouldn't have complained. A man with five World Series rings and a pre-punched ticket to the Hall of Fame on his jacket can afford to be sanguine.
About whether Wainwright did or should have grooved him something to hit out of the chute, well, let's just say — considering Wainwright himself tripped all over the foot in his mouth in all but admitting to it before denying it (we think) — that letting Jeter rap a leadoff double to open a 3-run American League first, in a game the AL won by two, wasn't exactly the way to make friends, influence people, or demonstrate your own manager's genius.
Wainwright put his glove on the mound and walked toward second base to let Jeter bask in the fans' ovation. That would have been more than sufficient tribute. Laying one in for the Yankee captain to jump in an exhibition game made to tie to a World Series advantage is ... well, not so brilliant.
Before you respond with Denny McLain and Mickey Mantle in 1968, how about a reminder that a) McLain had his 30th win in the bank and b) the Tigers had the pennant sewn up, when McLain decided to let Mantle have what he wanted most by then — passing Jimmie Foxx on the all-time home run list — and left instructions with his catcher to tell Mantle to just point where he wanted something to drive.
Before you respond with Chan Ho Park and Cal Ripken, Jr., how about a reminder that a) Park has never affirmed or denied laying one in to the Oriole legend and b) the All-Star Game hadn't yet been ordered to determine World Series home field advantage.
Wainwright's candor and inability to give rote answers to reporters' questions is one of his most endearing qualities, but this is one time the Cardinals' right-hander should have lowered the cone of silence. He didn't exactly throw Jeter a pair of meatballs, but he didn't exactly throw them to where Jeter couldn't have made contact with a hangar door, either.
He took the most wins into the All-Star break among National League pitchers but Clayton Kershaw (Dodgers) took its best winning percentage and the league leadership in ERA, fielding-independent pitching, strikeouts-per-nine, WHIP, and strikeout-to-walk ratio into the break. Cardinals manager Mike Matheny doesn't come out of this looking terribly smart in a game that's been strong-armed into giving a World Series advantage. Going with your own guy is one thing. Not knowing his thinking in a moment like this can hurt you.
And it isn't all that likely that Kershaw would have let the American League jump him for three out of the gate, never mind whether he would have given Jeter a leadoff present.
Jeter may not be the Jeter everyone remembers and loves or loathes depending on his or her rooting interest in glorious seasons past, but a lifetime .311 hitter who's hitting a mere .272 coming into this All-Star Game hasn't forgotten how to put the bat on the ball. He may not be the most run-productive or run-creative shortstop in the American League this year, but he's still Derek Jeter, and he still has the periodic knack for rising to those occasions presented to him. He only took 10 extra-base hits (nine of them doubles) out of 92 hits into the game, but it doesn't mean he's lost all his extra-base hitting ability just yet.
"If he grooved it, thank you," Jeter said graciously after the game. "You still have to hit it. I appreciate it."
Okay, so it's simple enough to sit harrumphing about what happened Tuesday night. But before you respond with Mariano Rivera in the eighth inning in last year's All-Star Game, I've got a reminder for you: Last year's AL manager, Jim Leyland, combined tribute with sound baseball thinking. He might have been given the opportunity by fate and the game progress to that point. But he responded the way a pennant-winning manager should respond.
Leyland had made it no secret he intended to manage last year's All-Star Game as though it were week last with the postseason at stake. And with a three-run lead to protect and the possibility of the National League cranking up against a lesser man out of the pen — with the likes of Jean Segura, a still-effective Allen Craig, and Carlos Gomez due up and capable of closing and overthrowing the lead — he defied the fans' and anyone else's conceits (except maybe Tiger fans who knew they had a shot at the postseason yet) and brought in The Mariano for the eighth.
The Yankee bullpen titan got his tribute and then some. That was a moment to remember when neither dugout stirred as he trotted in to "Enter Sandman" and took his eight warmups with nobody else in sight on the field. Then, he dispatched his three plate opponents like it was just another night at the office. He made it that much easier for Joe Nathan to play shutdown in the ninth, and — as a Hall of Famer should do given the circumstance — married the gate to the game.
So Wainwright may have grooved Jeter something to open the AL first Tuesday night out of respect. And Jeter — who'd earned his first in-game oohs and aahs with a diving stop in the top of the first of Andrew McCutchen's (Pirates) smash, before he missed throwing out McCutchen by a step — sent the second service down the right field line. And Mike Trout, who should have two Most Valuable Player awards in his case already just waiting for the All-Star MVP he'd earn this time, banged one off the right field fence for three bases and the first of his two RBIs on the night.
Then Miguel Cabrera (Tigers) parked one over the fence. The National League managed to tie it up on back to back RBI doubles by Chase Utley (Phillies) and Jonathan Lucroy (Brewers) in the second off Jon Lester (Red Sox) and Lucroy's run-scorer in the fourth off Chris Sale (White Sox). But Trout — securing the youngest All-Star MVP ever (he was three and a half months younger than Ken Griffey, Jr. was in 1992) — bounced an RBI double over third base in the fifth, followed almost promptly by Jose Altuve's (Astros) sacrifice fly.
Adam Wainwright, in-game to FOX Sports, telecasting the game: "I was going to give him a couple pipe shots just to — he deserved it. I thought he was going to hit something hard to the right side for a single or an out. I probably should have pitched him a little bit better." Adam Wainwright backpedaling after the earlier comments hit the Internet running: "It was mis-said. I hope people realize I'm not intentionally giving up hits out there."
I'm sure Wainwright, too, is among those people who realize it only sounds right and proper when Yogi Berra says he didn't say half the things he said, too.