MINNEAPOLIS – Baseball's 2014 All-Star Game featured a national coming-out party for Mike Trout, a strikeout parade for Yasiel Puig and a 90-mph fastball that left Derek Jeter's final game shrouded in controversy.
National League starter Adam Wainwright admitted he grooved Jeter the first two pitches of night, the latter of which Jeter stroked for a double that highlighted a 2-for-2 evening. Trout drove him in with a triple, the first of two extra-base hits on his way to winning the game's MVP award for leading the American League to a 5-3 victory on Tuesday night that gives the AL champion home-field advantage in the World Series.
Wainwright's comments to a group of reporters following his appearance in the game only reinforced the dubious awarding of home-field based on a game in which the starting pitcher was more than content to feed Jeter, the New York Yankees shortstop and a surefire Hall of Famer retiring at season's end, two easy pitches to hit.
"I was gonna give him a couple pipe shots. He deserved it," said Wainwright, the St. Louis Cardinals starter. "I didn't know he was gonna hit a double or I might have changed my mind."
Wainwright apologized for the comments, namely to Jeter, in a later interview with Fox.
"You know what, sometimes my humor gets taken the wrong way," Wainwright said. "I feel terrible about this. If anyone’s taken any credit away from what Derek Jeter has done tonight, or off me or anything, I mean, it was mis-said. I made a mistake about that."
Jeter, in classic fashion, laced the ball down the right-field line, just as he did with a third-inning single. In the top of the fourth inning, he left the game to a massive applause, replete with a curtain call and two doffs of his cap, the same number he deigned to give before his first at-bat.
"If [Wainwright] grooved it, thank you," Jeter said after the game. "Still gotta hit it."
All night, the crowd of 41,048 at Target Field bathed Jeter with appreciation on what could be his final national stage. That he batted in front of Trout, to whom he passes his mantel as the face of baseball, was more than appropriate.
Trout, the 22-year-old outfielder for the Los Angeles Angels whom Jeter joked in the dugout was too young to exit before the game was over, added a game-winning double to his triple and finished with a pair of RBIs and a run scored on a first-inning Miguel Cabrera home run.
The AL took a 3-0 lead in the first frame, only to cough it up in the fourth before retaking it an inning later on Trout's double and tacking on another with a Jose Altuve sacrifice fly. Max Scherzer earned the win with a zero in the fifth inning, and Scott Kazmir, Koji Uehara, Greg Holland, Sean Doolittle, Fernando Rodney and Glen Perkins, a born-and-bred Minnesotan, threw four more scoreless innings to lock down the NL. Cardinals pitchers combined to allow all five AL runs, with reliever Pat Neshek taking the loss after giving up the final two runs.
That wasn't the worst performance of the night. Puig, the Los Angeles Dodgers star participating in his first All-Star week, followed his zero-homer performance in the Home Run Derby on Monday night with an even more dubious achievement: three strikeouts in three at-bats over five innings and 18 pitches. He swung through a 90-mph changeup from AL starter Felix Hernandez in the first, stared at a 79-mph slider from Yu Darvish in the third and swung over an 84-mph slider from Scherzer in the third.
Granted, they are perhaps three of the 10 best pitchers on earth, so the shame isn't altogether overwhelming. Puig will have plenty more All-Star Games, along with Trout and the litany of other young stars in the game. It was one of the better in recent years, from the 56-mph eephus curveball Darvish unleashed to the shot from Cabrera to the brilliance of Trout to Derek Jeter doing what Derek Jeter does.
Even if he wasn't the MVP – and even if Wainwright did feed him a cookie, like Chan Ho Park to Cal Ripken Jr. in his final All-Star Game – the night was his to take, and take it he did.