Posted by: Mike Cornelius | July 17, 2014

Past, Present And Future Carry AL To Victory

The familiar names were all there Tuesday night at Target Field in Minneapolis, in front of more than 41,000 in the stands and a television audience larger than last year. The Midsummer Classic may not be quite the event that it was when I was a child, when for a brief time they even played a pair of All-Star Games each July, but among the four major North American team sports it remains the one showcase exhibition most connected to meaningful contests.

The NFL’s Pro Bowl was nearly cancelled within the past few years because of the lack of effort put forth by the players, and the NBA and NHL mid-season exhibitions are one-sided scoring extravaganzas in which defense is forgotten. But the MLB All-Star Game generally has the same rhythms of any other game played over the course of sports’ longest season, and this year’s contest was no exception. What stood out in the American League’s 5-3 triumph was the serendipity of it being fueled by stars from three distinct generations of ballplayers.

Representing the Great Game’s present was Detroit first baseman Miguel Cabrera. Winner of the last two American League MVP awards, Cabrera was making his 9th All-Star appearance. In the bottom of the 1st inning he sent the second pitch he saw from the Cardinals’ Adam Wainwright flying into the left field seats for a two-run homer. It was the only four-bagger of the night, and that it should come off the bat of Cabrera was entirely appropriate. The 31-year old socked 44 home runs both of the last two seasons, a number which led the league in 2012, when Cabrera ended a 45 year drought by winning the Triple Crown. He has also paced the AL in both slugging percentage and OPS for two years in a row. With 379 career homers Cabrera is 10th among active players, but younger than every slugger ahead of him on the list.

Cabrera has already won a championship, contributing significantly to Florida’s 2003 title when he was just a 20-year old rookie. Now in his 7th season in Detroit he has become the face of a franchise that has been to the postseason three straight years and appears headed there again, leading the AL Central by a healthy 6½ games as play resumes Friday. Prior to the start of this season he signed a lengthy and lucrative extension which more than anything demonstrated that Detroit owner Mike Ilitch and GM Dave Dombrowski believe that Cabrera is the star who can lead the Tigers to a championship.

Cabrera’s shot to left plated the Angels’ Mike Trout, who had tagged Wainwright for a triple two batters earlier. In the bottom of the 5th Trout rapped his second extra base hit of the game, a double to left that brought Oakland’s Derek Norris home from second with what would prove to be the winning run. It might seem odd to consider a player who was the runner-up to Cabrera in the MVP voting both of the past two years as a representative of baseball’s future; but then the most amazing number associated with Trout isn’t .313, 96 or 506. His batting average, stolen bases, and hits in a “career” that is in just its 4th year are all astonishing, but the really remarkable number is 22, Trout’s age.

Trout has quickly shown that he can do it all, at the plate, on the bases, and in the field. He has also demonstrated a remarkable maturity for an athlete rocketing to stardom while barely out of his teens. That combination of ability and poise bodes well for Los Angeles, which inked Trout to a contract extension earlier this season. For all the millions that owner Arte Moreno has spent on free agents like Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton, the decision to select Trout with the 25th overall pick in the 2009 draft is likely to return the greatest rewards.

The Angels return to the diamond with the second best record in the game. While they trail the division leading A’s by 1½ games, they are pulling away in the race for the two AL Wild Card spots, 6½ games ahead of Seattle and 9 games clear of two teams tied for third. If Trout leads L.A. back to the postseason for the first time since 2009, it will likely be for the first of many times over a career that could run for the better part of two more decades.

As the home run from the symbol of the Great Game’s present brought home its standard-bearer for the future, so Trout’s 1st inning triple knocked in the All-Star Game’s first run in the person of Derek Jeter, the lone remaining active member of New York’s home grown Core Four that included Jorge Posada, Andy Pettitte and Mariano Rivera. In his final All-Star appearance, Jeter was as always a master of the big moment. He doubled to lead off the game and singled in the 3rd inning. The two for two night means that he exits with a career .481 batting average in 14 Midsummer Classics. Jeter was the center of attention for much of the media, and was saluted by fans before the game started and once again when he was replaced at shortstop in the top of the 4th inning.

Unlike Cabrera and Trout, Jeter will probably not be able to single-handedly carry his team into the playoffs. At the break the Yankees are a .500 club, trailing Baltimore by 5 games in the AL East and only slightly closer in the Wild Card standings. Four of the five members of New York’s starting rotation on Opening Day have been lost to injuries. Ivan Nova is gone for a year after Tommy John surgery, and innings and pounds may have finally caught up with CC Sabathia. Michael Pineda’s return remains uncertain, and now even Masahiro Tanaka’s remarkable rookie season hangs by a thread.

Their starting pitching in tatters, the Yankees can’t count on an old lineup to bail them out. Like Pettitte’s and Rivera’s final campaigns last year, Derek Jeter’s career in pinstripes will likely end at the conclusion of the regular season, rather than in the playoffs. But the one certainty is that it will not do so without the Yankee captain trying with all his might to write a different ending. The Great Game moves on, and on Tuesday night Jeter was a symbol of past greatness next to the present and future of Cabrera and Trout. But until the season’s last out is made, he’ll be out there giving his all; smiling while he does so at his unbelievable luck of still playing a boys’ game at the age of 40.

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Responses

  1. Mike,

    How can they call this an All Star game when the leading team in the National East does not have a single player. I know at the last minute they did mention someone. Needless to say I did not watch the game and lost respect for a game based on popularity and not on skill.

    Chuck


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