SEATTLE – When Elias Díaz arrived at T-Mobile Park this week for his first All-Star Game, he told National League manager Rob Thomson he was willing to do whatever the team needed.
As it turns out, his team needed one big swing. And he delivered it.
Díaz’s two-run home run off Orioles closer Félix Bautista in the eighth inning lifted the National League to a 3-2 victory, ending the American League’s nine-game winning streak in dramatic fashion while earning Díaz the Ted Williams All-Star Game Most Valuable Player Award presented by Chevrolet.
“I basically just told him that whatever he needs from me, I'm here to help the team,” Díaz said through a translator. “I didn't necessarily realize that it was going to be me winning the game and bringing home the victory but, yeah, I told him whatever he needed from me, I was happy to be here.”
“I talked to Bud Black about Elias,” Thomson said. “He said, ‘This is one of the finest people you'll ever meet. He's a complete team player.’ For him to do that, it's fantastic.”
Díaz had already made history with his selection to the NL roster, becoming the first Rockies catcher to ever make an All-Star team. Now he’s the first Colorado player to earn MVP honors at the Midsummer Classic, making Colorado the 26th different franchise with that distinction.
“Obviously I was aware that I was the first Rockies catcher to be an All-Star; I took a lot of pride in that,” Díaz said. “I wanted to make the Rockies proud and put my name on the map, and now history is continuing to write itself with the MVP.”
Díaz’s path to the award was far from conventional. With Sean Murphy elected as the NL starter and Will Smith set to enter the game as the backup, Díaz’s participation was likely to be limited to either a pinch-hitting or designated hitter role.
That’s precisely how it played out, as Díaz pinch-hit for DH Jorge Soler with one runner on base and nobody out, the NL trailing by a run.
Bautista was pumping gas early in the at-bat, firing a pair of 98 mph fastballs before getting Díaz to foul off a splitter. Bautista missed with a 99.7 mph heater to even the count 2-2, then tried to go back to the splitter to put Díaz away.
Díaz hit it on the screws, launching it over the left-field fence. The 360-foot blast put the NL ahead for the first time, putting the league in position to end its lengthy drought.
“I feel like I went in with a really good plan,” Díaz said. “Just talking with the hitting coach, he showed me the numbers, kind of showed me the plan. I was looking for a specific pitch; I was able to get it and connect.
"When I was rounding the bases, I was just overwhelmed with emotion.”
So were Díaz’s teammates, some of whom met him outside the dugout and began showering him with bottles of water.
“We were really happy,” said Juan Soto, part of the impromptu welcoming committee after Díaz crossed the plate. “You get to see a guy like that, a first-time All-Star, and he’s been around for a little bit in the league. We know how great a guy he is. To step to the plate and do what he did, it’s incredible. We were cheering for him the whole way.”
Díaz’s blast marked the first time an NL player hit a go-ahead home run in the eighth inning or later in an All-Star Game since 1995, when Jeff Conine snapped a 2-2 tie with a solo shot in the eighth. The last NL player to do it with his team trailing that late? Hall of Famer Mike Schmidt in 1981.
Perhaps if Díaz had listened to teammate Orlando Arcia earlier in the game, he would have known what was about to happen.
“I was talking with my teammates earlier in the dugout, maybe the third or fourth inning,” Díaz said. “Orlando Arcia, he was telling me that, ‘Hey, you're going to go up to bat, you're going to hit a home run and you're going to win the MVP.’”
Díaz became the seventh catcher to win All-Star MVP honors, the first since Atlanta’s Brian McCann, who took home the award in 2010 at Angel Stadium in Anaheim. He’s also only the second Venezuelan-born player to win the award, joining Dave Concepcion in 1982. That last fact certainly didn’t seem to escape Díaz’s attention, as he shouted “Venezuela!” after finishing his postgame press conference.
“It's incredible; I honestly can't believe that my name is going to be next to some of those names,” Díaz said. “Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine that I would be in this position.”