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American League 5, National League 2: Junior Circuit records eighth straight win

Shohei Ohtani and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. lead the AL to victory in the Midsummer Classic.

MLB: American League at National League Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

When Major League Baseball announced that the All-Star Game would be played at Coors Field in Denver Colorado, fans salivated at the thought of monster home runs leading to a high-scoring affair. Instead, the American League pitching staff stifled the National League offense while the AL put together three quick rallies to notch their eighth straight All-Star victory, 5-2.

Starting with the Angels’ Shohei Ohtani, who pitched a one-two-three first inning, a parade of the Junior Circuit’s best pitchers quieted the NL bats. They didn’t record their first hit until the third inning and didn’t string together multiple baserunners until the sixth or multiple hits until the eighth. Ohtani, Lance Lynn (White Sox), Kyle Gibson (Rangers), Nathan Eovaldi (Red Sox), Gregory Soto (Tigers), and Andrew Kittredge (Rays) combined for six innings of three-hit, one-run ball; the only damage that the NL did against these pitchers, in fact, was a solo shot off the bat of Phillies catcher J.T. Realmuto.

The Senior Circuit did not threaten at all until the bottom of the sixth off A’s starter Chris Bassitt. With two down and a runner on second — the Padres’ Manny Machado, who ripped a two-out double to right field — Bassit lost the strike zone, walking Machado’s teammate, infielder Jake Cronenworth, and Nationals superstar Juan Soto to load the bases. Rays catcher Mike Zunino, who replaced Royals backstop Salvador Perez behind the plate in the fifth, mishandled an 0-2 pitch, allowing Machado to score on the passed ball and putting runners on second and third. But Bassitt struck out Cubs fan favorite Kris Bryant to limit the damage.

Red Sox closer Matt Barnes similarly struggled in the eighth inning, allowing back-to-back singles to NL West third basemen Justin Turner (Dodgers) Eduardo Escobar (D-backs) and walking Soto to load the bases for Bryant, a situation he found himself in two innings prior. He then laced a 3-0 pitch to right field at 96.6 mph, but the Angels’ Jared Walsh made a sliding catch to save the lead.

That is a phenomenal play for anybody, but it’s even better when you realize that Walsh primarily plays first base for the Angels and has accrued only 163.2 innings in the outfield — all of which came in right field! He was a left field rookie and still found a way to save the game.

As for the AL batters, they kept the pressure on NL pitchers throughout the night. After being steamrolled by Nats starter Max Scherzer in the first, the scoring began in the top of the second. Aaron Judge opened up a very Yankees-esque rally by working a walk from Milwaukee Brewers starter Corbin Burnes — i.e., the guy who did not walk a batter until May 13th and has walked only 15 batters in 87.2 innings.

Rafael Devers of the Red Sox moved Judge to third on a double to right field; he then scored on Blue Jays infielder Marcus Semien’s slow roller to third base.

With runners on first and second and nobody out, the AL seemed primed to jump out to a big lead. Perez, however, struck out, and Blue Jays left fielder Teoscar Hernández grounded into a 6-4-3 double play to end the threat. It may not be a Yankees game, but Yankees fans were nonetheless treated to a very familiar sight — the only thing missing was a baserunning mistake!

Despite Burnes’ struggle, NL skipper Dave Roberts sent him out there for a second inning, and the AL made him pay. Three of the four batters that came to the plate in the third drilled the ball more than 99 mph, the hardest of which was a Judge line drive (110.9-mph exit velocity) to Padres superstar Fernando Tatis Jr. that ended as a fielder’s choice. The highlight of the inning, however, was a moonshot of the bat of Toronto’s Vladimir Guerrero Jr, the 2021 All-Star Game MVP.

That mammoth shot — the 200th home run in All-Star Game history, according to the broadcast — traveled 468 feet into the Denver night and was recorded at 110.2 mph off the bat by Statcast. With that home run, Guerrero Jr. is the second-youngest player to ever homer in the All-Star Game, behind only Johnny Bench; he also became the youngest MVP.

The Rockies’ own Germán Márquez quieted the AL bats in the fourth, but the bottom of the lineup rallied against Trevor Rogers of the Marlins. Hernández doubled to lead off the inning, then advanced to third after the Orioles’ Cedric Mullins reached on an error by Giants shortstop Brandon Crawford. Guerrero drove in Hernández on a groundout to second base, on which Mullins advanced to second. Boston’s Xander Bogaerts then brought him around to score on a single to right field, giving the AL a 4-0 lead. Judge flew out to right field in his final at-bat of the game, just getting under the ball, but the damage was done.

The American League would tack on another run in the following inning, Zunino deposited a home run deep into the right-field seats, stretching the lead to 5-1:

Tabbed by AL manager Kevin Cash to close out the victory, Liam Hendriks of the White Sox had a bit of an eventful night in between potential FCC violations. He allowed a leadoff single to Brewers catcher Omar Narváez and a double to the Braves’ Ozzie Albies. In between them, though, Zunino pulled a Gary Sánchez Special to erase Narváez’s single, nabbing him advancing to second on a wild pitch thanks to a lucky bounce off the backstop. Hendriks then proceeded to strike out the Dodgers’ Chris Taylor and get Trea Turner of the Nationals to bounce out to second to end the 5-2 affair.

In addition to scoring in his first plate appearance, Judge made the highlight reel with a nice defensive grab, tracking down a Bryan Reynolds fly ball to right to lead off the third inning.

Of course, being the All-Star Game, the broadcast sprinkled interviews with players both on and off the field throughout the night. There were gems abound, such as Fernando Tatis Jr.’s amazed reaction to Guerrero’s dinger, Ohtani revealing that he dabbles in badminton (the sport his mother played) for training purposes, and Hendriks being a lunatic closer throughout the nint. Of course, there were also some cringe-inducing moments, like Joe Buck yelling in Bogaerts’ ear after striking out against Scherzer, and asking Bryant about his team’s lengthy losing streak and the probability that he will be traded. They can’t all be winners, I guess.

My personal favorite, however, was Freddie Freeman’s inning with the microphone, highlighted by the 6-foot-5, 220-pound Braves first baseman’s fear of looking small next to a certain 6-foot-7, 282-pound Yankees outfielder.

Ohtani gets the win, becoming only the second Japanese-born player to record an All-Star victory (the first was old friend Masahiro Tanaka, who earned the win in the 2019 edition); the Australian-born Hendriks, meanwhile, gets the save. With the win, the American League All-Stars have improved their record to 46-43 and have stretched their winning streak in the Midsummer Classic to eight games. They’ve captured 20 of the last 23 All-Star Games.

Most of the participants will get a well-earned two-day break before resuming action on Friday. I say most of the participants, because two teams — the Yankees and the Red Sox — return to action on Thursday. Eduardo Rodríguez gets the ball for Boston, while the Yankees have yet to announce how their rotation will shake out after the break; first pitch is scheduled for 7:08 pm ET.

Box Score