For the fourth year in a row, the American League will have home-field advantage in the World Series. The AL secured that with a 4–2 win over the National League in Tuesday night’s All-Star Game at Petco Park in San Diego. It was also the second win in a row for AL manager Ned Yost, whose Royals were the headliners in this year’s Midsummer Classic, driving in all four of the AL’s runs with first baseman Eric Hosmer winning the MVP award. Here are three things that stood out about the game:
We Will Never Be Royals
With Wade Davis, who was selected to the American League team, and Lorenzo Cain, who was an early vote leader, on the disabled list, the Royals had just three All-Stars this year, down from the seven last year. However, the defending world champions dominated the game with each All-Star playing a key role in the American League’s victory. Yost deployed the American League’s bullpen in a manner familiar from many of Kansas City’s postseason contests over the last two years.
The NL jumped out to an early 1–0 lead on Kris Bryant’s first-inning solo home run off AL starter Chris Sale, but the Royals fixed that in a hurry. In the bottom of the second, Hosmer and Salvador Perez homered off former teammate and NL starter Johnny Cueto in their first at-bats. Hosmer’s home run, which came with one out, was the first by a Royal in an All-Star Game since Bo Jackson led off the 1989 contest with a legendary blast to dead center. Two batters later, following a single by Mookie Betts, Perez hit another to put the AL up 3–1.
Hosmer’s next at-bat came in the following inning, again with one out, this time with men on second and third via a walk and a Xander Bogaerts double. As he did with his home run in the previous inning, Hosmer hit the ball hard to the opposite field, this time blasting a one-hopper 110 mph at NL third baseman Bryant. That screamer ate up Bryant and bounded by him into leftfield to plate pinch-runner Edwin Encarnacion with the fourth AL run.
Hosmer and Perez grounded out in their final at-bats, but the third Royals All-Star, reliever Kelvin Herrera, got into the game in the sixth inning, working a perfect frame to start a parade of dominant AL relievers who nailed down the win. Given how much the Royals dominated this game, Fox play-by-play announcer Joe Buck can be forgiven for saying Herrera pitched a perfect inning “for the Royals” when going to commercial after the sixth inning.
How Do You Spell Relief? A-L
Looking at the two leagues’ rosters, the American League had one very noticeable advantage over the NL: its relief pitching. Just five relievers made the Senior Circuit roster. Including the injured Davis and Craig Kimbrel, the AL had nine All-Star relievers, seven of them on the active roster, six of them having posted first-half ERAs of 1.77 or better. Herrera was perfect in the sixth. Dellin Betances allowed a Daniel Murphy single and uncorked a wild pitch in the seventh, but his curveball was evil—Nolan Arenado missed one by roughly a bat’s length—and he hit 100 mph three times while striking out Corey Seager and Arenado on triple-digit heat. Betances’s Yankee ’pen-mate Andrew Miller got into trouble in the eighth, allowing a pair of singles and a walk to load the bases with two outs, but Houston’s Will Harris came to his rescue, striking out rookie pinch-hitter Aledmys Diaz, the last position player off the NL bench, to strand all three runners.
For the ninth inning, Yost went to Orioles closer Zach Britton, who allowed just three earned runs in the first half for an absurd 0.72 ERA, the lowest by any pitcher with at least 30 innings pitched this season, and hadn’t blown any of his 27 first-half save chances. Britton allowed a leadoff single to Murphy, who reached base in all three of his plate appearances, but got Paul Goldschmidt and Arenado to ground out, the latter into an around-the-horn 5-4-3 double play to clinch Yost’s second All-Star win in as many opportunities. Altogether, the five AL relievers combined for four scoreless innings, striking out four, with Miller yielding three of the five baserunners allowed by that quintet.
The pivotal moment of the entire game was the showdown between Harris and Diaz with the bases loaded and two outs in the top of the eighth. The matchup itself was a curious one. Harris is a 31-year-old first-time All-Star who didn’t even reach the majors until the age of 27 and was claimed off waivers three times between April 2013 and November 2014, that last claim being how the Astros acquired him from Arizona. Diaz was the only player on either roster who did not appear in the majors last year. In fact, he was outrighted off the Cardinals’ 40-man roster last July, passed through waivers, wasn’t put back on the roster until November and did not make St. Louis’s Opening Day roster out of camp. The righthanded Diaz was only called up on the second day of the season because two other shortstops, Jhonny Peralta and Ruben Tejada, as well as the Cardinals top righthanded bench bat, Tommy Pham, got hurt.
In this case, Diaz was the last man off the National League’s bench, called upon to hit for the lefthanded Seager, the only other rookie on either roster, against the lefty Miller. Yost countered with the righty Harris, who went after the rookie Diaz with his power curveball. Harris’s first curve missed. He then threw a cutter that appeared to be off the outside corner but was called a strike by home plate umpire Mike Winters. Diaz then fouled off another curve ball and managed to check his swing on one in the dirt to run the count even at 2–2. Another cutter missed to run the count full, at which point Diaz was likely looking for another curve. Instead, Harris painted the outside corner with a 93 mph fastball to catch the rookie looking for the third out, stranding all three runners.