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Why baseball's least important game affects its most important games

July 12,2016 23:06

SAN DIEGO — Stephen Strasburg is one of the best pitchers in baseball. Tuesday night, he could have impacted the All-Star Game, played in his home town, where he went to college, where he met his wife, where he lives in the offseason. He is healthy ...

As has been the case since 2003, the team with home-field advantage in the World Series will come from the league that wins the previous summer’s All-Star game. (Kirby Lee/USA Today Sports) SAN DIEGO — Stephen Strasburg is one of the best pitchers in baseball. Tuesday night, he could have impacted the All-Star Game, played in his home town, where he went to college, where he met his wife, where he lives in the offseason. He is healthy, yet he did not pitch. Remember that when the weather turns, when it’s October. “When October comes around, everybody forgets about the results of this game until they realize that, ‘Oh, the American League won it so they get the advantage,’” Strasburg said. [Stephen Strasburg explains his decision not to pitch in the All-Star Game] The All-Star Game was created as an exhibition and a celebration. It remains such — with a rather large asterisk. “It’s vitally important,” said Ned Yost of the Royals, who managed the American League team. Which is why Strasburg not pitching is just one of the minor things in July that could seem major come the fall. The American League took a 4-2 victory over its National League counterparts Tuesday night at glorious Petco Park. So pencil in Game 1 and Game 7 of the World Series for Texas or Cleveland, Baltimore or Boston. The Nationals, Cubs, Giants, etc. — if you’re going to celebrate a title at home, you’ll have to do it in four or five games. The ceremonial touches were mostly perfect Tuesday night. Before the game, Major League Baseball named the awards for winning the American and National League batting titles for Hall of Famers Rod Carew and the late Tony Gwynn, respectively, which pleased the fans in Gwynn’s home town enormously. The six-jet flyover in this Navy town was chill-inducing. When Red Sox slugger David Ortiz, playing his final season, was lifted for a pinch runner in the third, the entire AL team came out for hugs. Lovely. [Royals take over All-Star Game, lead American League to 4-2 victory] But the inescapable is this: The least important game of this whole summer will have a direct impact on the most important games of the year. Things that also happened Tuesday night: Yost and his counterpart, National League Manager Terry Collins of the Mets, worked as many players into the game as they could, a nod to markets across the country. Before the first pitch, Collins made a decision based on something other than winning the game, naming Wil Myers of the hometown Padres as his designated hitter and cleanup hitter — then, after pinch-hitting for both Bryce Harper (double) and Kris Bryant (homer) in the fifth, allowed Myers a third at-bat. In that plate appearance, Myers scalded a ball to the gap. “I kind of wanted an extra-base hit in the All-Star Game,” he said. “I figured: Why not just go for it?”That’s the reality in this game: Players do things they wouldn’t have done on Sunday, when they played their last game before the break, and that they won’t do on Friday, when play resumes. Bryant, the young Cubs slugger who hit third for the NL, came up in the first against White Sox lefty Chris Sale. In real life, Bryant was 0 for 6 with six strikeouts against Sale. Here, though, he thought Sale — who Monday said he would “let it eat” for his inning — might try a different approach. “I think usually in these games,” Bryant said, “the pitcher’s going to come out and try to light up the radar gun more than they he does.” So Sale threw a first-pitch fastball. Bryant jumped on it. Bomb. When Bryant came out of the game, he was all smiles. “It was a special moment for me,” he said. Sure, why not? And yet . . . “Getting to the World Series and having home-field advantage is No. 1,” said Texas lefty Cole Hamels, who twice pitched in the World Series for the Phillies. Now, Hamels’s Rangers would have it. Bryant’s Cubs or Harper’s Nationals won’t. “It could affect being in a Game 7 somewhere in a hostile environment,” Harper said afterward. “I love that. I enjoy hostile environments. I enjoy the booing and the yelling and the screaming, and somebody behind me telling me he’s going to kill me or whatever. But I’d rather be at home playing a Game 7 than on the road. It kind of affects the way you go about it.” Lest you think this is connecting dots that shouldn’t be connected, consider: This arrangement began in 2003, and in the 13 years since, the winning league in the All-Star Game has produced the World Series winner nine times, including six of the last seven. “It’s a fine line,” Strasburg said. “I think it’s a lot better than the Pro Bowl, so that’s a big plus.” [All-star Ian Desmond has given the Rangers more than their money] A favorable comparison to a completely non-competitive farce is still a favorable comparison. “Look, baseball has the best All-Star Game in sports,” Nationals right-hander Max Scherzer said. “Football is a joke. Basketball is a joke because it’s 200-200. They don’t even play defense. It’s not even a real game. And hockey is a 10-9 score because they’re not playing defense. “And I get it. All those other sports are so physically demanding for a specific time that they don’t want to hurt each other. But baseball, for an All-Star Game, this is the best game you can possibly watch.” Afterward, in the mass of people crowded outside the National League clubhouse, Bryant smiled and posed for pictures with his family. With that home run, his night was memorable, his moment etched. His team lost. And what shouldn’t have really mattered absolutely does.

MLB,Stephen Strasburg,max scherzer,mlb all-star game,world series

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