If he could have scaled Mount Rainier to spread the message from above, Rob Manfred surely would have. Manfred, Major League Baseball’s commissioner, had reason to celebrate his sport Tuesday: attendance was up 8 percent from last season, with a stronger pace of play, more daring on the bases, improving television ratings and surprising the contenders.
“What do you call it, a virtuous circle, right?” Manfred said Tuesday afternoon, before the 93rd All-Star Game. “The rule changes are good, the players stay positive, it makes the fans even more positive about them because the players are positive about them. So it’s really been great for us.”
At one point, however, Manfred acknowledged that baseball had simply taken a breather. March’s World Baseball Classic ended with a dream matchup: The best player in the world, Shohei Ohtani, struck out his Los Angeles Angels teammate, the highly decorated Mike Trout, to win the tournament for Japan.
“Once in a while, you get lucky,” Manfred admitted. “The culmination of Ohtani and Trout, you can’t plan for that.”
A few hours later, with the upper deck in right field still bathed in the glorious Seattle summer sun, baseball nearly got lucky again. A two-out walk in the bottom of the ninth inning brought Julio Rodríguez, the Mariners’ young centerpiece, to the plate with a chance to win the game.
Like everyone from Snohomish to Spokane, Rodriguez was thinking about a home run.
“Oh, I was definitely trying to win it, honestly,” he said. “Once I saw the guy get to first, my thought was to throw a good pitch to drive and try to win this game.”
Alas, that pitch never came. As eager as he was to play the local hero, Rodríguez went for a walk. It set up an anticlimactic finish: Craig Kimbrel of the Philadelphia Phillies struck out Cleveland’s José Ramírez, sealing the National League’s 3–2 victory over the American League.
It was the first victory for the National League since 2012, but the league president did not toast after the game. That position was eliminated years ago, and league distinctions are all but extinct now, with all teams playing each other in the regular season.
“I don’t think they really pay too much attention to that,” said Phillies NL manager Rob Thomson, referring to the end of the NL’s losing streak. “I think if you’re playing in a game, you want to win, but I don’t think that meant much.”
The All-Star Game is primarily an opportunity to celebrate the game and admire the feats of the greatest performers in the majors. In fact, the game’s first two batters, Ronald Acuna Jr. and Freddie Freeman, hit deep balls that turned into fast-flying catches in the air by Cuba’s outfielders. Adolis Garcia battled against the sun to steal Acuna to the right, and Randy Arozarena, his former teammate in the St. Louis Cardinals’ farm system, rose to catch Freeman’s ball in the shadows of the outfield. left.
“It’s my first time here at the All-Star Game and I’m glad to have shared the court with Adolis, who is the godfather to my daughter and my brother,” Arozarena, of the Tampa Bay Rays, said through a translator. . “So it was fun.”
Arozarena, the runner-up behind Toronto’s Vladimir Guerrero Jr. in Monday’s home run derby, struck his trademark cross-arms pose on the warning track after his catch. Garcia of the Texas Rangers made another warning track jumper in the fourth.
“I have all the faith in the world in Adolis that he’s going to make those plays,” said the Rangers’ Jonah Heim, the AL’s starting catcher. “Usually when he jumps, he catches it.”
In the second inning, when Nathan Eovaldi pitched for the American League, Heim was one of six Rangers on the field at the same time. The only other teams to do that were the 1939 champion Yankees and the 1951 Brooklyn Dodgers.
“It’s really special,” Heim said. “When you look around you and you’ve got third, short, second, right and pitcher and catcher in the field at the All-Star Game, you really can’t top that.”
The Atlanta Braves tried it; his entire infield played together in the bottom of the fifth inning. That might have been a poignant image, but for the third year in a row, MLB put teams in generic Nike uniforms, making its best players look as indistinguishable as possible.
It was fitting, then, that Tuesday’s MVP was perhaps the most anonymous All-Star of all: Colorado Rockies catcher Elias Díaz, who hit a two-run home run to pass Felix of the Baltimore Orioles. . Baptist in the eighth.
Diaz, 32, signed with Colorado in 2020 after five lackluster seasons with the Pittsburgh Pirates. He was the lone representative of the last-place Rockies, but he earned his spot on the list by hitting .277 with nine home runs and an optimistic outlook.
“It’s unbelievable,” Diaz said through a translator, when asked about his transformation from Pirates scrap to All-Star Game MVP. “When they released me, I didn’t allow myself to feel defeated. I kept my confidence and stayed positive. Now I’m happy to be here.”
He did more than show up, and he walked away with a glass bat named Ted Williams, an award that eluded all the headliners, including Ohtani, who struck out and walked in both of his plate appearances.
Yes, Ohtani said, he heard the crowd chant “Come to Seattle” as he batted, a recruiting plea from the 47,159 paying fans who would love to see Ohtani move in as a free agent this offseason.
“I’ve never experienced anything like that,” Ohtani said through a translator, adding later: “Every time I come here, the fans are passionate, they’re really into the game. So it’s very impressive.”
Ohtani has spent off-seasons in Seattle and said the city was beautiful. He didn’t say whether his fellow All-Stars had made subtler pitches for him to teammate with.
“I would like to keep that a secret,” he said.