CINCINNATI -- It was a fun three days at the beautiful Great American Ball Park, from seeing tomorrow's future stars to a memorable Home Run Derby to Tuesday's pregame festivities. The All-Star Game itself was a close, interesting game until the American League broke it up open late. Here are five key moments:
1. First inning: Mike Trout leads off the game with a home run.
American League manager Ned Yost could have hit Trout second or third. After all, with 26 home runs he's the co-leader with teammate Albert Pujols in the American League. But Yost did a smart thing: Hit the man leadoff. Why not? Give the best player in the game the opportunity for as many at-bats as possible.
All Trout did against Zack Greinke, who entered with a stretch of 35⅔ consecutive scoreless innings over five starts, was line a home run into the first row of the right-field stands on a 1-2 fastball. (And, no, Bryce Harper should not have crashed into the wall in an unlikely attempt to catch the ball.) How good has Greinke been this season? Batters are hitting .126 against him with two strikes. When the count is 1-2, batters are hitting .092 with one home run. Of course, Trout isn't your typical hitter. With two strikes, he's hitting .226/.301/.419 with 10 home runs. That's the fifth-best wOBA in the majors and the second-most home runs. So Trout is good, with no strikes, one strike, two strikes. Doesn't matter. Make a mistake on a fastball and he'll make you pay.
The fun part was this came right after Hank Aaron, Johnny Bench, Sandy Koufax and Willie Mays were introduced as the four greatest living players via voting on MLB.com. Trout is just four years into his career, doesn't turn 24 years old until August, draws comparisons to Mickey Mantle that are definitely not ridiculous and is the favorite to win his second MVP Award. Greatest living player? Not yet. Greatest active player? Yes.
If they do this Greatest Living Player every year, will Mike Trout just walk out from the dugout for his spot in what ... 2020?— Eric Karabell (@karabellespn) July 15, 2015
2. Fifth inning: Clayton Kershaw comes in the game.
The weird thing about Bruce Bochy's decision to use Madison Bumgarner and Kershaw in the middle innings is that it came when the AL still had all its right-handed batters in the game. You could have argued that using some combo of A.J. Burnett or Shelby Miller or Michael Wacha made more sense. Then again, it's Bumgarner and Kershaw. Bumgarner escaped his inning but Kershaw did not.
After Trout beat out a potential double-play ball, Pujols worked a great walk with two outs -- 87-mph slider, 94 fastball called strike, a slider swing-and-miss, 96 fastball for a ball, 95 fastball for a ball and a 90-mph slider off the plate. Prince Fielder then hit for Nelson Cruz.
Cruz has the best wOBA in the majors against left-handed pitching, hitting a sick .388/.474/.791. Yes, Fielder is having an amazing season and I get what Yost was doing: He was being fair, giving half the game to Cruz and half the game to Fielder. From a purely strategic standpoint, however, it was the wrong move. Fielder is hitting .276/.345/.463 against southpaws. Lefties are hitting .227 off Kershaw in 2015 with 42 strikeouts and four walks, and just .191 over the past three seasons. The best move was to let Cruz hit.
So of course it worked! It's Ned Yost! Everything he has done since October has worked! More importantly, give credit to Fielder for a good at-bat, taking an 0-2 fastball to the opposite field for the go-ahead RBI single with Trout blazing home from second. This is the new Prince. He has appeared to cut down his swing a bit and has sacrificed power and walks for more hits, hitting a career-high .339 thanks to a career-best line-drive rate.
Lorenzo Cain then followed with an RBI double over the third-base bag off a first-pitch fastball, giving the AL a 3-1 lead. Cain is known for his defense but he's having a great season at the plate, spraying line drives all over the field. He deserved his starting spot in the outfield; good to see him come through with a big hit. And a good inning for the Royals starters voted in by their rabid fan base.
What made those Prince Fielder & Lorenzo Cain RBI hits possible: Mike Trout busting it down the line to beat that DP relay. #ofcoursehedid— Jayson Stark (@jaysonst) July 15, 2015
Kershaw: "It's not really my favorite thing in the world, that this determines home-field advantage."— Pedro Moura (@pedromoura) July 15, 2015
Chris Archer returned for a second inning of work but Andrew McCutchen crushed a first-pitch slider leading off the inning to make the score 3-2. Archer then retired hometown hero Todd Frazier to bring up Harper. Yost made the smart counter move, bringing in hard-throwing Orioles closer Britton to face Harper (who has hit five home runs off left-handers). Britton threw four fastballs and then got Harper swinging on a changeup. Not fair. Things then got interesting as Britton made an errant throw on Paul Goldschmidt's tapper and Yadier Molina singled to center.
With lefty Anthony Rizzo due up, Bochy went to his bench for Tulowitzki. A good move, especially since Yost had already told of his bullpen plan before the game, which included using Dellin Betances, Wade Davis and Glen Perkins in the seventh, eighth and ninth. Why you give out your plan in a game that is supposed to matter, I'm not sure. Bochy, meanwhile, had indicated that he'd keep Tulo in reserve. But this was a good moment to use him, with the game possibly on the line given the strength of that AL trio of relievers.
The at-bat: 97 fastball low, 96 fastball on the inside corner, 97 swing and miss on the inside corner, 97 fastball and a routine grounder to second for a 4-6 force.
4. Trout leads off the seventh with a walk.
Why is a walk a key moment? Because it started a two-run rally. Also because Yost left Trout in for a fourth at-bat. Good job, Ned!
Francisco Rodriguez is having a nice season for the Brewers, but he's a soft-tossing closer who relies on moxie instead of power these days. I'll take power pitching in an All-Star Game, and it was pretty clear on paper that the AL had the late-game bullpen advantage. Trout walked on a 3-2 fastball and was replaced by pinch-runner Brock Holt, who then stole second when Molina bounced the throw into second. Manny Machado also worked the count full and then drilled an RBI double off the wall in right-center off a 90-mph fastball. About that power pitching ... Anyway, after a groundout, Fielder completed the rally with a sac fly.
Trout's day: A home run off a guy who hadn't allowed a run in more than a month; great hustle to beat out a double-play ball, which later helped the AL score twice with two outs; a big walk to start a two-run rally; and he also met with the baseball gods and the weather gods in a special meeting he set up to settle a dispute over the impending thunderstorm that was supposed to hit Cincinnati. The dude is awesome.
5. Betances, Davis, Perkins.
I mean, come on. Sorry, National League. Put it this way: Yost does have a plan. With the Royals, it's get the lead after six and hand the ball to the best bullpen trio in the majors, Kelvin Herrera (who was on the AL roster), Davis and Greg Holland. In this game, it was get the ball to Betances, Davis and Perkins. One guy throws 100, one guy has allowed two runs all season and the third guy hasn't blown a save. Game. Over.
Unfortunately, when Reds closer Aroldis Chapman came on and struck out the side in the ninth to at least give the home fans something to cheer for, it was too late: AL 6, NL 3. Home-field advantage to Yost's Kansas City Royals!
Oh no. There's no major league baseball now for 3 days. Not cool. Play some games Thursday.— Eric Karabell (@karabellespn) July 15, 2015