One thing about Derek Jeter: He has a way of rising to the occasion. As New York Yankees manager Joe Girardi said last year, when Jeter came off the disabled list and hit a home run in his first game back, "He's a movie is what he is."
Indeed, Jeter's entire career seems scripted by Hollywood screenwriters. You know the story.
So here he was in his 14th All-Star Game, receiving multiple standing ovations from Minnesota Twins fans. But he still had a game to play, and that's what Jeter has always done best: focus on playing baseball.
He led off the game with a patented Jeter hit -- a line-drive double down the right-field line with that famous inside-out swing that hasn't changed in 20 years.
OK, so St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Adam Wainwright admitted that "I was going to give him a couple of pipe shots. He deserved it. I didn't know he was going to hit a double or I would have changed my mind."
Still, you have to hit the ball, and Jeter did. His double kick-started the American League's three-run first inning, as Mike Trout followed with a triple and, with one out, Miguel Cabrera lined a home run into the left-field stands.
Wainwright would later backtrack during an in-game interview, suggesting his humor was misconstrued. "I hope everyone is realizing I'm not intentionally giving up hits out there," he said. "This game means too much."
The Cardinals ace is known for speaking from his heart, but as much as he didn't want to take away from Jeter's moment, it's a controversy that is unavoidable and should absolutely be discussed and debated. The fact is that something is on the line, home-field advantage in the World Series, something Wainwright knows all too well considering the Cardinals lost Game 6 at Fenway Park last year.
The heart of the game is competition, not giving Jeter a chance for a big moment. Whether he actually grooved that 91 mph fastball will certainly be addressed if the World Series ends up going six or seven games again.
While Wainwright clearly regretted his initial statement, he probably regretted those pitches to Trout and Cabrera even more. He had a full count on Trout, but instead of throwing his nasty curveball -- batters have hit .143 against it -- he threw a cutter that Trout drilled to right. He threw an 0-1 inside sinker to Cabrera that Miggy turned on, a lovely piece of hitting.
The National League later tied the game to take Wainwright off the hook, but the American League scored the winning runs in the fifth off another Cardinals pitcher, reliever Pat Neshek -- a guy whose season began as a minor league spring training invite. He has been terrific for the Cardinals on the season, but Derek Norris and Alexei Ramirez singled and then Trout hit a chopper over the third-base bag that Aramis Ramirez, not exactly known for his defense, failed to came up with, scoring Norris for an RBI double. Jose Altuve then hit a long sacrifice fly off Tyler Clippard.
Those two hits earned Trout MVP honors and perhaps presented a symbolic passing of the torch in some way from Jeter to a young player who grew up in New Jersey with a Jeter poster in his bedroom.
Now, Mr. Trout, all you need is a few big October moments.
A few other random thoughts:
Cardinals manager Mike Matheny paid the price for playing favorites, as Wainwright and Neshek combined to allow six of the AL's seven hits. While Wainwright was certainly a worthy starter considering his 12-4 record and sub-2.00 ERA, you can certainly make the argument that Clayton Kershaw deserved to start. Kershaw pitched a 1-2-3 second inning. And while Neshek is a great story, he's also a player who has had 38 great innings, not really the kind of guy you think of as an All-Star.
To be fair, the NL's pitching depth had been hurt by the fact that Johnny Cueto, Madison Bumgarner and Julio Teheran all started Sunday and were unavailable to pitch and Jordan Zimmermann was injured. The fact that Alfredo Simon, a mediocre reliever last year who has had three good months as a starter, was the third NL pitcher used showed the relative thinness of the staff and that Matheny had to rely on a slew of relievers.
AL manager John Farrell, meanwhile, was able to roll out one good starter after another, not having to turn to his bullpen until two outs in the sixth inning. And remember, guys such as Garrett Richards and Corey Kluber didn't even make the AL squad. In all, the AL staff struck out 13 while allowing just one walk, with the five relievers used combining for six strikeouts in the 10 outs they recorded.
I don't really like the way the managers skipper these games, basically just getting everyone in the game and not worrying about potential late-game matchups. The final three NL batters against lefty reliever Glen Perkins were Miguel Montero (who can't hit lefties), Pirates utility man Josh Harrison and Charlie Blackmon, who is often platooned by his own team against lefties. Well done, NL. The AL seemed to have the deeper roster coming into the game -- something Matheny perhaps recognized by playing his starters longer -- and it came into play the final couple of innings.