Robinson Cano's home run propels American League to fifth straight All-Star Game victory
- In a game dominated by pitching, it was Robinson Cano's 10th-inning home run that elevated the American League to a 2–1 win over the National League.
For the 12th time in All-Star Game history and the first time since 2008, the AL and NL needed extra innings to settle the score. Robinson Cano’s solo home run off Wade Davis in the top of the 10th propelled the AL a 2–1 win, its fifth straight victory in the competition, and evened the all-time tally between the two leagues to 43 wins apiece. Here are three quick thoughts about the game.
1. Late-inning drama
On a night where pitching dominated, both teams had golden opportunities to un-tie the score in the ninth inning, with their first substantial threats since each had plated their lone run. Facing Kenley Jansen, Yonder Alonso led off with a single and stole second. He got as far as third, via Jansen’s two-out balk, but the Dodgers’ ace closer struck out the other three hitters he faced, including Avasail Garcia with two outs. In the bottom of the inning, Yadier Molina—who had supplied the NL’s lone run via a sixth-inning homer (more on that below) — drew a leadoff walk against Craig Kimbrel and one out later, took second on a passed ball by Gary Sanchez. Jake Lamb walked. Paul Goldschmidt’s flyout to centerfield advanced Molina, but Michael Conforto couldn’t keep up with the steady diet of 98 mph fastballs that Kimbrel fed him. He went down swinging.
The score didn’t remain tied for much longer. Davis—who had allowed just one home run since September 24, 2015—hung a curveball on his third pitch of the night, and Cano hit a 395-foot liner into the rightfield bullpen in Marlins Park. That proved to be the difference-maker, and it earned Cano the game MVP honors.
The shot was the first extra-inning All-Star Game home run since Tony Perez hit one to give the NL a 2–1 victory in 1967. Serendipitously, Perez was on hand at Marlins Park. He and eight other Latin American members of the Baseball Hall of Fame, including the late Roberto Clemente and the absent Luis Aparicio, were honored in the pregame festivities. Perez, Juan Marichal, Rod Carew, Orlando Cepeda, Roberto Alomar, Pedro Martinez and Ivan Rodriguez threw out ceremonial first pitches that were caught by seven Latin American All-Stars, including Cano, Alonso, Molina, Carlos Correa, Francisco Lindor, Marcell Ozuna and Sal Perez.
The two teams’ combined three runs matched their 2013 output (AL 3–0 that year) for the lowest-scoring All-Star Game since 1990, when the NL won 2–0. It was just the seventh time in All-Star history that the winning team scored two runs. And not only was it the AL’s fifth straight win, it was their 17th in the last 21 contests, and it evened the overall series tally.
2. Molina’s moment
The first five innings whizzed by in a flurry of zeroes with just one run scored. Things got interesting in the sixth, even as the departure of the All-Star Game from the “This Time, It Counts” mentality was underscored. Amid a set of defensive changes that turned over the entire on-field NL lineup—has that ever happened before in this game? — in the top of the frame, Yadier Molina took over the catching responsibilities while wearing what appeared to be either a C3PO costume, or all of the gold lamé in Miami:
NL reliever Zack Grienke recorded two outs before giving up single to first baseman Yonder Alonso. When designated hitter Nelson Cruz stepped to the plate for his first time of the night, he pulled out his cell phone and asked Molina to snap a photo of him with home plate umpire Joe West. The action ground to a halt, but Molina obliged, and Cruz, with the outline of his phone visible through the back left pocket of his pants, put a charge into the ball but flew out to centerfield to end the inning.
In the bottom of the sixth, after a flurry of defensive changes on the AL side, hotshot rookie Cody Bellinger grounded out against Ervin Santana, and then Molina, showing no trace of the gold lamé, hit a towering solo homer to right centerfield, 385 feet according to Statcast. Two days short of his 35th birthday, he became the oldest catcher to homer in an All-Star Game (surpassing Yogi Berra in 1959), the older player of any position to do so since Barry Bonds in 2002, and the first Cardinal to do so since Reggie Smith in 1974.
According to Elias Sports Bureau: First All-Star home run hit in aftermath of staged home plate photo.— Gabe Lacques (@GabeLacques) July 12, 2017
3. High Velo, K’s and Zeroes
The early innings of the game were 2017 Baseball in a microcosm, as 10 of the first 21 outs came via strikeouts, with plenty of high velocity pitches, few baserunners and seemingly little action. Starters with little need to pace themselves for a long night emptied the tank as though they were Aroldis Chapman throwing the ninth. It may not have been the most compelling baseball, but it did move the game along quickly.
NL starter Max Scherzer—the fifth pitcher to start an All-Star Game for each league, after Vida Blue, Randy Johnson, Roger Clemens and Roy Halladay—set the tone for the early innings by going … Max Effort. With each grunt audible thanks to the hyper-mic’d field, he fired nine fastballs in the 96–97 mph range from among his 15 pitches. Via Brooks Baseball, his four-seamer averaged 96.3 mph, 1.6 mph above his season average.
AL starter Chris Sale—the first starter to have the honor in back-to-back years with two different teams—topped Scherzer both by working two innings and by throwing 10 pitches that were 98 mph or higher, including a ball to Bryce Harper that hit 99.8 (again via Brooks Baseball). His four-seamer averaged 97.5 for the night, up from his season mark of 95.0. Dellin Betances, who worked a wild but scoreless third inning for the AL, topped 99 mph four times. Carlos Martinez, who threw the third and fourth innings for the NL (sidearmer Pat Neshek threw the second, never breaking 92), topped 100 mph four times, with a few more above 99. His heater averaged 99.7 mph, up from 97.0 on the year.
The AL finally broke the ice in the fifth inning. Lefty Alex Wood, who retired the first two batters he faced via a total of three pitches, served up a double down the leftfield line to Jonathan Schoop, who had just entered the game. Miguel Sano then dunked a blooper into no-man’s land near the rightfield line as Bryce Harper, first baseman Ryan Zimmerman and second baseman Daniel Murphy—his Nationals teammates!—converged. The ball landed safely, and Schoop scored the game’s first run easily.
Through nine innings, the NL struck out 13 hitters, two shy of the nine-inning record set by the Senior Circuit in 2015. Martinez whiffed four, while Kenley Jansen, who worked the ninth, notched three, with two apiece by Scherzer and Greg Holland, who worked the eighth, and then one apiece by Greinke in the sixth and Brad Hand in the seventh. While Sale and Betances combined for four strikeouts through three innings, their Junior Circuit compatriots added just three more through nine.