By Morris Phillips
CLEVELAND — For the American League and the Indians’ Shane Bieber, the 90th All-Star Game was everything it was cracked up to be.
The AL scratched together some early offense, then pitched with dominance on their way to a 4-3 win, their seventh win in a row in the Midsummers Classic. Bieber, pitching in front of his fanbase and his pride-filled manager, Terry Francona, struck out the side in the fifth to preserve a 1-0 lead, a feat that earned the 24-year old the game’s MVP, the first time a player from the host team has won the award since 1999.
“It’s an incredible feeling now, now that it’s kind of sinking in,” Bieber said. “Just to be able to do it in front of the home crowd, and my first All-Star Game is definitely not something that I expected, especially being added to the game five days ago, four or five days ago.”
Nine American League pitchers got one inning of work each, with AL starter Justin Verlander setting the tone with a two-strikeout first inning. By the time the NL got on the scoreboard for the first time in the sixth, they had just two hits while striking out 11 times.
Bieber and Oakland’s Liam Hendriks combined to fan Willson Contreras, Ketel Marte, Ronald Acuna Jr., Kris Bryant and Trevor Story consecutively before Charlie Blackmon homered off Hendriks to cut the AL lead to 2-1. In all, NL hitters struck out 16 times, and managed to hit just seven balls beyond the infield.
In contrast to last year’s showcase in Washington D.C., and juxtaposed against the homer-happy, first half to the 2019 season, the NL was completely out of step. Last year at Nationals Park, National League hitters clubbed five home runs–one each from Contreras and Story–while striking out 12 times and drawing five walks. In Cleveland, with seven hitters back in the lineup from D.C., they struggled to create a rally outside the eighth inning, when they struck for two runs off Cleveland’s Brad Hand.
“A lot of hard throwers and great pitchers over there,” Bryant said. “Unless you’ve seen them before, it’s a difficult matchup.”
While the NL offense appeared to hit the snooze button, the American Leaguers proved resourceful and scrappy, using infield singles to set up both of their initial runs. First, the Astros’ Alex Bregman legged out a chopper to third, and scored on Michael Brantley’s double. Then in the fifth, Gary Sanchez of the Yankees doubled, then moved to third on a ground out, and scored on Jorge Polanco’s infield hit.
The AL kept stitching it together in the seventh, when Oakland’s Matt Chapman drew a leadoff walk off Milwaukee’s Brandon Woodruff. Then with runners at the corners and no out, Xander Bogaerts of the Red Sox hit into a double play, but Chapman scored on the play. Down 3-1, manager Dave Roberts summoned the Giants’ Will Smith to pitch to Joey Gallo, but the Rangers’ slugger spoiled that plan with a loud home run on Smith’s first pitch.
“I really didn’t understand the magnitude of it; I just hit a home run in the All-Star Game,” said an excited Gallo. “Watching this game growing up, and now I hit a home run in it. It’s pretty special. I think I have to take a step back. Everything happened so quick.”
Gallo’s homer was thumped, the loud crack of the bat inside the ballpark confirmed that. But the numbers did too. Gallo’s blast exited Progressive Field at 111 mph, the fastest in an All-Star Game since exit velocities were first tracked in 2015.
Gallo’s moment was Smith’s as well, and another humbling All-Star experience for Giants’ pitchers. Smith figures to be hot on the trade market in the coming weeks given his 1.98 ERA and 23 saves, but leaving a fat pitch over the plate to a left-handed slugger won’t enhance his value. But clubs will no doubt take note of the fact that Smith’s only allowed home runs to left-handed batters twice in the last three seasons.
The All-Star Game had a couple of feel-good moments with 19-year veteran C.C. Sabathia summoning closer Aroldis Chapman from the bullpen in the ninth, and getting a rousing welcome from Cleveland fans, who supported him over the first 7 1/2 seasons of his career. Sabathia has announced his retirement after the season, and his appearance organized by MLB was an acknowledgment of the extraordinary nature of his career.
Carlos Carrasco, recently diagnosed with leukemia, also made an appearance, with four of his Indians’ teammates and Francona. All five held placards across their chests saying “I Stand for Cookie (Carrasco’s nickname).” Carrasco stood in the middle, and his placard simply said, “I Stand.”
“He’s one of our teammates and one of the big guys in the clubhouse. You don’t wish that upon anybody. We just got to support him in any way we can,” said Brad Hand, one of Carrasco’s teammates on the field during the emotional moment.