Is the All-Star Game a joke? Not to those who are here

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PHOENIX – Where’s Derek Jeter?

That seemed to be the question on the mind of many during Monday’s media day leading up to Tuesday’s All-Star Game. Jeter, the Yankees shortstop, decided not to play in the game, as he has recently returned from the disabled list with a calf injury.

Jeter is one of 16 players either unable or unwilling to participate in the game. Some, like Alex Rodriguez, are out because of a serious injury, others because of nagging aches and pains. Several pitchers are not allowed to participate, by MLB rule, because they started games on Sunday.

Jeter is simply the most notable of the 16 in part because of who he is, but also because he returned from the DL six games ago. He has gone 10-for-27 since his return, and certainly seemed healthy on Saturday when he went 5-for-5 to surpass the 3,000-hit mark.

Some say his absence, along with that of several others, makes a mockery of the game. But it’s hard to take credibility away from an exhibition game, and no matter what Bud Selig does to give it some importance, the All-Star Game is just that.

Rest a balky calf for a playoff run or fly to Arizona to play a couple innings in a non-counter? It’s a pretty easy choice. If Jeter, or any player, doesn’t want to play in the All-Star Game, there are plenty of players more than thrilled to step in and take part.

Seattle Mariners rookie Michael Pineda was asked if he ever expected to be an All-Star at age 22: “No,” he said, laughing. “It’s wild. To play in the All-Star Game is unbelievable. I’m very excited to be here. This is a big day for me.”

Pittsburgh Pirates veteran Kevin Correia, selected to his first All-Star Game at age 30, said he suffered through several sleepless nights after being told he was first in line to nab a spot if another pitcher opted out.

“It was a relief (when I finally found out),” said Correia, 11-7 with a 4.01 ERA. “It was just a goal that I wanted to accomplish in my career at some point. To finally get to experience something like this is definitely going to be something I’m going to look back on as a highlight in my career.”

And Toronto Blue Jays pitcher Ricky Romero (pictured), 7-8 with a 3.09 ERA, was positively giddy about being chosen as a replacement.

“I’m just trying to soak everything in,” Romero said. “I’m living the dream.”

Romero spoke about his rise from the baseball fields of East Los Angeles and the importance of representing his hometown. At breakfast Monday morning, his mother told him how family and friends back in California were sharing in his excitement.

“Everyone who watched me grow up and watched me play, they saw how hard I worked and everything I put into it,” Romero said. “It just shows that anyone can make it out of there. It shows little kids that if you work hard you can do anything.”

And if the All-Star Game becomes a regular occurrence for Romero, would he ever consider skipping the festivities and using the break to rest?

“I would never miss this for the world,” he said, beaming. “For me, it’s exciting, and I don’t think I could ever get tired of it. The more, the better.”

One of the best things about baseball’s All-Star Game, what separates it from the others of its kind, is that the players give their all on the field from start to finish. There is no coasting on defense, no taking it slow to avoid injury, no grooving pitches down the middle just to get some work in.

If you start pressuring players to compete who might not be 100 percent healthy you might lose some of that quality of play. And in the end, a pennant race is far more important than an exhibition game.

“I think it’s a personal decision,” said Braves catcher Brian McCann, who will play in his sixth All-Star Game, his first as a starter. “Derek has been an ambassador to this game. He’s been nothing but great. I’m not into nit-picking. He’s here every year. He gives his time, and he does everything by the book. He just got back from the DL, I don’t blame him at all. They’re trying to win the World Series.”

But would a healthy McCann ever turn down an All-Star appearance?

“Never. I always want to be a part of this.”

To each his own.

Phillies walk off winners thanks to a poor decision by Marcell Ozuna

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The Phillies’ bullpen, which has not been good as of late, gift-wrapped Monday’s game for the Cardinals. Starter Nick Pivetta was brilliant, fanning 13 while allowing two runs in 7 1/3 innings. But things unraveled after he left the game. Victor Arano took over for Edubray Ramos to start the ninth inning with the Phillies leading 4-2, but he allowed a one-out single and a double. After striking out Harrison Bader, Arano appeared to strike out Yairo Munoz for the final out of the game, but the ball trickled through the legs of catcher Andrew Knapp, allowing a run to score and the tying run to move to third base. Lefty Adam Morgan came in to face pinch-hitter Kolten Wong. Wong tied the game up, sneaking a single into center field.

In the 10th inning, Jake Thompson gave up the go-ahead run on a leadoff home run to Tommy Pham. It seemed like it was just going to be another one of those losses that have become increasingly common for the Phillies lately. But the Phillies’ offense didn’t go down quietly, even though it hadn’t put a runner on second base since the start of the second inning when J.P. Crawford doubled. In the bottom half of the 10th, Hoskins blooped a single into shallow left-center to start the inning. Hoskins moved to second base on a ground out from Odubel Herrera. Matt Bowman intentionally walked Carlos Santana, then struck out Jesmuel Valentin. That brought up Aaron Altherr, who replaced Nick Williams after Williams took a baseball to the face off of the right field fence. Bowman fell behind 2-1, then threw a 90 MPH fastball that Altherr lined into left field. Rather than keep the ball in front of him, Marcell Ozuna decided to dive for the ball to make the final out, but he missed. The ball trickled past him, allowing the tying and the game-winning runs to score, giving the Phillies a come-from-behind win.

On the list of people happy to see Ozuna miss that ball are Altherr (of course), Arano, Morgan, and Thompson. But perhaps no one was happier than manager Gape Kapler. The win might help take the heat off of him somewhat after another poor performance from the bullpen. When a team struggles, everyone wants a scapegoat and Kapler is an easy target. He has been all year, undeservingly.

Phillies radio broadcaster and former major league reliever Larry Anderson said after the bullpen meltown, “Not everybody can pitch in the ninth inning. And I know Gabe Kapler thinks they can, but they can’t.” Aside from Ramos and Seranthony Dominguez (who was unavailable after throwing 52 pitches between Saturday and Sunday in Milwaukee), no one in that bullpen has been reliable. The closer, Hector Neris, just got optioned to Triple-A. You work with what you have, and right now, Kapler doesn’t have a whole lot. Thankfully for him, he wasn’t punished with another loss thanks to Ozuna.