COMMENTARY | I've always loved the MLB All-Star game. I realize it's watered down.
I realize that the star power of today is led more prominently by players who aren't as relatable to me as when I grew up and American baseball still dominated. That is actually a great thing for the quality of the game. I've simply always loved the pageantry, the chance to see talented pitchers I rarely get to see (although it's all pretty easy to find these days) and getting the chance to watch young Philadelphia Phillies get their first shot in the showcase -- often looking as star struck as fans.
The 2013 All-Star game at Citi Field in New York, for me, was about watching Phillies left fielder Domonic Brown, the 25-year old slugger who morphed from last shot, has-been prospect set to be thrown in the circular file of our baseball memories to legitimate major-league slugger with a work ethic and room to improve even further.
I welcomed the thought of Brown being able to pick the baseball brains of a Torii Hunter or Carlos Beltran, converse about the game with a cleaned-up Darryl Strawberry, or sit back and take it all in with slightly younger (only in age) contemporaries like Bryce Harper and Mike Trout.
As for the game, there was no awe-inspiring power or mind-boggling defensive wizardry (although Manny Machado's play was great). There was no knee-grinding late-inning tension. It was about pitching -- pure and simple. Just absolute filth being sling-shot from 60 feet, 6 inches in a 3-0 American League win that leaves its pennant winner in the drivers' seat with home-field advantage in the Fall Classic.
The story of the game was Mariano Rivera, unarguably the greatest reliever in the history of the game. Rivera, who has been trying to retire for a few seasons now, suffered a season-ending injury in 2012 and decided he would come back at the age of 43 and end it on his terms. He has 30 saves with a 1.83 ERA at the break. His terms.
As Rivera stood alone on the mound in the 8th inning amidst a raucous standing ovation with participants that included baseball royalty, politicians, über-celebrities and the players of both teams while Metallica's Enter the Sandman blared from the stadium PA, two thoughts entered my mind. First, it's probably been a decade since I broke out that album and that's too long, and second, I hope Dom Brown is watching this. I hoped Brown took that spectacle in and began to understand the work it takes to get to that level. I hoped Brown watched and while living in the moment of his own greatest accomplishment resolved that he wanted more, resolved to work harder, resolved to be back here year after year.
As for Brown's game, he'd probably want to file it away because it wasn't one to write home about. It started as we would expect a Phillies' day to start in New York -- with a chorus boos. Both Brown and Cliff Lee, his Philly comrade, as well as each Atlanta Braves player introduced, were given the common courtesy of divisional hatred. Brown handled it with a chuckle while Lee looked on stoically as if he might choose a heckler and tear them in two.
He saw his first game action in the top of the sixth inning, replacing the Colorado Rockies' Carlos Gonzalez in left. With hometown host David Wright of the Mets on first after collecting one of just three National League hits, Brown stepped in against another first-time All-Star, the Toronto Blue Jays' Brett Cecil.
Typically aggressive, Brown hacked and missed a first-pitch breaking ball. The second pitch he saw was a fastball in the mid-90s right in Brown's happy zone. He watched. Strike two. Down in the count, Cecil stayed with heat and clipped the outside corner. Brown waved at it helplessly. Good morning. Good afternoon. Goodnight, Mr. Brown. Welcome to baseball's pedestal.
In the top of the 8th, with two down and a man on third for the AL, Cleveland Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis drilled a pitch deep to left that Brown seemed to misjudge a bit. It would have been a fantastic play had Brown laid out to catch it, but the Philly faithful would rather Brown be around for the second half rather than risk injury in a moment that in retrospect, wouldn't have amounted to anything but a digit change on the scorecard.
As the game came to a close, the NL had a runner on with the Pittsburgh Pirates' Pedro Alvarez at the dish with a full count. Brown waited in the on-deck circle representing the tying run, hopefully going through his mental Rolodex to find what little I'm sure he knows about Texas Rangers closer Joe Nathan, or perhaps summoning up everything he had learned this week from baseball's elite to find what it would take to tie the game up with one swing.
Alvarez popped the 3-2 pitch weakly to Kipnis at second.
Brown walked back to the dugout to pack up his things for the second half. Some keepsakes, his equipment, and perhaps some lessons learned.
Maybe next year, Dom. If you apply them.
Pete Lieber is a freelance writer who has been covering the Philadelphia Phillies for more than three seasons and following the club since before Domonic Brown was a glint in his father's eye. Follow him on Twitter at @Lieber14.
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