CLEVELAND -- Each of the players participating in Sunday night’s SiriusXM All-Star Futures Game is looking ahead at a future that has yet to be decided. Why should the game have been any different?
The American League mounted a dramatic seventh-inning rally to tie the contest, which ended in a 2-2 tie against the National League after one extra inning was completed.
With his team down to its final two outs, Sam Huff (Rangers’ No. 21 prospect) gave the AL new life in the seventh with a game-tying two-run home run against Ben Bowden (Rockies’ No. 16), bringing the AL dugout to life for the first time all night. Huff’s big blast in front of 34,386 fans at Progressive Field earned him game Most Valuable Player honors.
“When I saw it go, my heart started going and then I just started smiling to myself,” Huff said. “I didn’t think it was something I was ever going to experience in my life.”
This year’s event -- the 21st of its kind -- featured two new wrinkles: the game was shortened to seven innings (or so we thought) and featured a league vs. league matchup, a change from the World vs. U.S. format that had been used since its inception.
The NL scored both of its runs in the fourth inning, while both AL runs came in the seventh. Unlike last year’s Futures Game, which featured a record eight home runs, pitching ruled the rest of the night, as each league posted zeros in the other seven innings.
“Pitchers were dominant,” said AL right fielder Jo Adell (No. 4 overall, Angels’ No. 1). “It was a tight one. Everyone came in and really did their job well. They’re the best in the Minor Leagues.”
By rule, the two sides played one extra inning, each beginning with a runner at second base. Adell made a potential game-saving catch with one out in the NL’s eighth, holding the runner at second thanks to his diving effort.
The AL couldn’t score its runner from second in the bottom of the inning as Jorge Mateo (A’s No. 8) and Luis Robert (No. 5 overall, White Sox No. 1) flied out to center, then Adell struck out to end the game.
“I’m just happy to be around these young players and this beautiful game,” NL manager Dennis Martinez said. “What is better than a tie game? They are so good, you don’t want to see anybody go home and feel like a loser and somebody else feeling like a winner.”
AL starter Deivi Garcia (Yankees’ No. 4 prospect) set the tone for the night with a quick first inning, retiring the top of the NL lineup in order. Ian Anderson (No. 26 overall, Braves’ No. 3), who got the start for the NL, countered with a perfect inning of his own.
“It was exciting to be able to start and go out there and try to set the tone,” Anderson said. “It was cool. I was not expecting to start, and once I found out, the nerves kicked in a little bit.”
The parade of pitchers followed suit, as Justin Dunn (No. 67 overall, Mariners’ No. 2) and DL Hall (No. 66 overall, Orioles’ No. 3) tossed scoreless innings for the AL while MacKenzie Gore (No. 3 overall, Padres’ No. 1) and Dustin May (No. 51 overall, Dodgers’ No. 3) did the same, moving the scoreless game into the fourth.
“The first part of the game moved so quick with the great pitching,” AL manager Jim Thome said. “We were sitting there, and you’d look up; 101, 98, 97, 99 [mph]. This is special. When you look at the overall athletic ability that the position guys bring, to have that low-scoring of a game, it really says a lot about both sides’ pitching.”
“It’s one of those little checkmarks you can mark off your bucket list,” May said. “You know you’re in arm’s length of it. You’ve got to keep going and keep doing what you’re doing and hope you get the call one day.”
Carter Kieboom (No. 21 overall, Nationals’ No. 1) showed off his defensive skills in the third as he ranged far to his left on Jake Rogers’ grounder up the middle, throwing him out by a step on a highlight-reel play to end the inning.
Kieboom started the game’s first rally in the fourth, leading off with a single against Matt Manning (No. 32 overall, Tigers’ No. 2). Alex Bohm (No. 38 overall, Phillies’ No. 1) singled with one out, setting up the RBI single by Taylor Trammell (No. 27 overall, Reds’ No. 1) to left field, giving the NL a 1-0 lead.
“I was glad I got to make a couple plays out there,” Kieboom said. “Last year, I don’t think I had really any plays. I got to make some plays out there on defense and swing the bat this year. All around, it was a great day. We did a lot of stuff today, and it was pretty rewarding to have the big crowd like that and play in front of all those fans.”
Manning hit Will Craig (Pirates’ No. 12) with a pitch for the second time in the game, loading the bases and ending Manning’s night. Dylan Carlson (No. 88 overall, Cardinals’ No. 2) singled in another run, giving the NL a 2-0 lead.
“I mean, it’s tough,” Manning said. “There’s no holes in the lineup. Every guy’s here for a reason. Hitters are good. I got a lot of weak contact left side. They got through the holes a little bit. Just part of it.”
Trammell -- possibly taking aim at back-to-back Futures Game MVP honors -- tried to add to the lead with a steal of home, but he was called out on a close play at the plate.
“I’m honored to be here. I love this, and this is a great experience for me and my family, but going forward, I want to be here the next two days rather than here,” Trammell said. “I want to see the Home Run Derby, I want to see guys hit bombs. I want to play in the All-Star Game. That’s the kind of player I think I am, and I want to be at that point.”
The AL didn’t register its first hit until Wander Franco (No. 1 overall, Rays’ No. 1) led off the fourth with a single. He didn’t stay on the bases long, however, as Joey Bart (No. 19 overall, Giants’ No. 1) made a perfect throw to nail him as he tried to steal second.
Nate Pearson (No. 41 overall, Blue Jays’ No. 2) needed just 12 pitches to throw a perfect fifth for the AL, hitting triple digits four times. All three of his outs came on his slider, which proved to be an even bigger weapon for the right-hander.
The AL didn’t advance a runner beyond first base until the sixth, when Royce Lewis (No. 7 overall, Twins’ No. 1) and Mateo hit consecutive two-out singles against Adrian Morejon (No. 49 overall, Padres’ No. 4). A wild pitch moved the potential tying runs to second and third, but Robert flied out to center to end the threat, preserving the NL’s shutout.
Until Huff’s big swing in the seventh, that is.
“Huff’s home run, at that point, I really thought we were going to win the game; I really did,” Thome said. “It was special. As a retired guy, not being in that for a while, that’s what it’s about. So great. Good for the kid. He got a pitch to hit and did a heck of a job.”
The AL went on to put runners at second and third in the seventh, but Luis Patino (No. 40 overall, Padres’ No. 3) struck out the next two batters to force an extra inning.
Despite the lack of a decision, the unanimous verdict on another Futures Game was clear: the future of the game is pointed in the right direction.
“Being in a big league stadium with a really good crowd and a bunch of good players, it was a really cool experience, for sure,” Craig said. “Being with a bunch of great players at every position, guys that are going to be the future of the game in the next couple years, it’s definitely something that you think about and you want to soak it all in and know, ‘Hey, I know I’m here for a reason. I know I can play.’ All these guys, obviously, can play.”