AL staves off NL for 8th straight All-Star win

Vlad becomes game's youngest MVP, Ohtani earns win in historic Midsummer Classic

July 14th, 2021

DENVER -- The buzz in the building Tuesday night largely revolved around a two-way talent doing something that had never been done on Major League Baseball’s midsummer stage.

Yet by the time the 91st All-Star Game was over, the story was not just unique feat but also his closest competitor in the American League MVP race hitting a monstrous home run and his lower-profile Angels teammate coming through in the clutch while playing out of position.

Oh, there’s also the matter of the American League’s continued dominance in this exhibition -- a trend extended by the Junior Circuit’s 5-2 victory on a night in which the National League could not deliver one of those crazy comebacks Coors Field so often supplies.

But while the NL, which has dropped 15 of the last 18 All-Star Games overall, can bemoan its losing ways, once again the All-Star Game was a big win for baseball in terms of showcasing -- for the 49,184 fans in attendance and the millions watching around the globe -- its next generation and its international appeal.

“There’s more talent -- one through 850 or 900 ballplayers -- than there’s ever been,” NL manager Dave Roberts said. “And it’s kind of sided toward the young players. There’s just so many superstars, so much talent. Me as a guy who has been around for a bit, you have to embrace it.”

That embrace is worldwide.

Japanese-born Ohtani was the AL’s winning pitcher; the 22-year-old, Canada-born and Dominican Republic-bred became the youngest-ever Ted Williams All-Star Game MVP; a Georgia boy named made the catch of the night; and Australian reliever Liam Hendriks got the save.

And you thought the Rocky Mountains covered a lot of ground.

Beginning with a goosebump-inducing pregame tribute to the late Henry Aaron and the nine other Hall of Famers lost since the last All-Star Game in 2019, it was a perfect summer night in the Mile High City, which had impressed industry members and fans alike with its coordination of an All-Star Week that had to come together quickly after a late change in venues.

And sure, it would have been even more perfect had Ohtani done something special at the plate.

But the fact that Ohtani, fresh off his thrilling turn in Monday’s T-Mobile Home Run Derby, was even at the plate as the AL’s leadoff hitter and then on the mound as its starting pitcher was special enough (so special that MLB bended the rules for him to get a second at-bat as a DH after he had left the game as a pitcher). A couple groundouts as a hitter won’t add to the 27-year-old Ohtani’s fast-growing legend, but he did pitch a 1-2-3 inning against the top of the NL order -- Fernando Tatis Jr., Max Muncy and Nolan Arenado -- that included a 100.2-mph four-seam fastball.

You won’t find many DHs and Derby participants who can do that.

"I was only going one inning, so I didn't have to think about going further into the game,” Ohtani said through interpreter Ippei Mizuhara. “So, I just let it rip."

Ultimately, it was Guerrero who outshined Ohtani’s star on this night. After his Toronto teammate Marcus Semien got the AL on the board with an RBI single in the second, Guerrero smacked and stood to admire a magnificent 468-foot solo shot to left-center off Brewers right-hander Corbin Burnes in the third.

“Dreams come true,” Guerrero said through an interpreter. “Since I was a kid, I was thinking about this moment.”

It was a moment that dropped jaws.

“Holy moly,” NL third baseman Manny Machado said. “That was a bomb.”

In going deep just as his Hall of Fame father had in the 2006 Midsummer Classic, Guerrero hit the longest All-Star home run since Statcast began tracking. It was also the 200th home run in the long history of this event.

The AL’s early advantage was extended by more Blue Jays bullishness, as Teoscar Hernández ripped a leadoff double to open a two-run fifth that made it 4-0. And though the NL finally made some noise with a J.T. Realmuto solo homer in the bottom of the fifth, the AL answered right back with Rays catcher Mike Zunino’s solo shot to right-center in the sixth.

That was all the scoring the AL would need. From there, it was a matter of confining the NL offense in a building where confining any offense is a task as tall as Pikes Peak.

But aside from an unearned run on a Zunino passed ball in the bottom of the sixth, the AL proved up to that task, thanks in no small part to an impressive play by Walsh.

The bases were loaded with two out in the eighth when Cubs star Kris Bryant came to bat against Red Sox reliever Matt Barnes. Because an AL team trading for Bryant on the spot was not a realistic possibility, the only option was to get him out. Bryant ripped a 96.6-mph liner to left, but Walsh, who ordinarily serves as the Angels’ first baseman and who had never played an inning of left field in his big league life, was able to snare it with a sliding grab.

“Play of the game,” said AL manager Kevin Cash, who had previously told/warned Walsh he would be playing out of position. “I don't think he was too thrilled going out there. He was nervous. But man, he picked us up in a big way.”

Joked Walsh: “I hope [Angels manager] Joe Maddon wasn’t watching. I like first base a lot more than left field.”

With Hendriks getting the save in a bumpy yet effective ninth in which he was mic’d up for the FOX broadcast, the AL was victorious yet again. Were the NL team an actual team, it would be time for a clubhouse meeting.

But because all that was on the line in this summer spectacle was pride, what mattered more was the experience of watching some of 2021’s breakout players seize the moment on Coors’ expansive stage.