Paul DeJong wanted to show fans the wholeness of his game that brought him to Cleveland this week. That’s exactly what he did.
The Cardinals shortstop turned two double plays, took a walk and stole a base to round out his experience Tuesday night in his first trip to the All-Star Game presented by Mastercard.
DeJong leads the National League with 66 double-play balls started or turned, and he started two more to limit the American League’s damage in its eventual 4-3 win. His defense has improved steadily over the past three years and it took off this year at shortstop -- enough to help push him into the All-Star Game.
After entering the game in the bottom of the sixth, DeJong took Xander Bogaerts’ grounder in the seventh and flipped it to Max Muncy at second base, who threw it to Pete Alonso at first for two outs. Then, in the bottom of the eighth, DeJong fielded a sharp grounder from Jose Abreu and whipped it to Muncy again to start the double play and end the inning.
“It was good to get some action,” DeJong said. “That first double play for Bogaerts was hit a little harder than I thought. I took a flat angle making the play. Muncy had a good turn on that; even when Suarez was stealing, I still thought I had time. It was good to get that play.”
DeJong took a walk in his first at-bat in the eighth inning off left-hander Brad Hand to load the bases for Charlie Blackmon, who struck out swinging, before Alonso singled in two runs. DeJong said he was ready to hit, but his priority was to get on base and help the National League score a few more runs.
And DeJong couldn’t resist stealing a base. Alonso and DeJong caught the infield sleeping and pulled off a double steal of second and third, respectively, before Mike Moustakas popped out to catcher James McCann to end the inning.
“I watched [Hand] one pitch, maybe,” DeJong said. “I looked in the dugout and kind of laughed and looked at the Dodgers guys, and they were like, ‘Yeah, just go.’ I’m going to go. It was there for the taking. I was hoping he was going to spike a slider somehow or hang it just to get that extra run.”
DeJong was selected by Major League Baseball to be the Cardinals’ representative, making it the first time the club had just one All-Star since 2007, when Albert Pujols was a reserve at first base.
DeJong’s plan was to get some All-Star gear for his teammates while he canvassed the Cleveland scene and donned his own classy attire at the red carpet on Tuesday. His hope is to use the All-Star Game as a springboard for his performance in the Cardinals’ second half. DeJong is slashing .258/.343/.442 this year for the Cardinals with 13 home runs.
As he watched the first few innings Tuesday night, he wanted to talk to other National League All-Stars and learn from them to improve his game.
“When you’re competing against them on the field, that’s one thing,” DeJong said before the game. “You say your small talk, you say hello, stuff like that, but really it’s about just enjoying being here together as elite company and being All-Stars. That’s something that’s very special to me and I’m cherishing it.”
And as for the red-carpet attire? He’s already looking forward to next year.
“I got dressed up and got to wear my suit,” DeJong said. “I didn’t go for the flair costume today. I’ll be on the lookout for a nice outfit for next year.”