CLEVELAND -- Baseball has a way of punching itself in the face. Even in the hours leading up to Tuesday's All-Star Game, much of the chatter on Twitter concerned earlier comments from commissioner Rob Manfred about the juiced-up baseball and Major League Baseball Players Association chief Tony Clark saying the MLB draft is inherently anti-labor.
Even fans aren't blameless in all of this. Instead of admiring all the young talent in today's game and the prodigious ability to swat home runs against incredible pitchers who throw 98 mph rocket balls, we too often lament the lack of base hits and stolen bases or complain about all the strikeouts.
The discussion is important and necessary. Sometimes, however, it feels like the criticism becomes the overwhelming narrative surrounding the sport. The All-Star Game is far from perfect; it's not what it once was, and wishing for it to be 1972 again solves nothing. We get it: Christian Yelich and Cody Bellinger, the two best players in the National League this season, exited in the bottom of the fourth inning.
Still, after spending three days in Cleveland, it was clear that the fans here enjoyed all the festivities with enthusiastic fervor, going crazy throughout Monday's Home Run Derby and cheering like it was a playoff game when hometown pitcher Shane Bieber struck out the side in the fifth inning. Everyone downtown and at the stadium was adorned in Indians T-shirts and jerseys -- far more support for the hometown team than I've seen at other recent All-Star Games -- in a reminder that Clevelanders, even if attendance numbers are low in the regular season, still passionately support their team.
The American League beat the National League 4-3, and few will remember the score of the game. Indeed, the most memorable moment of the night was perhaps the Stand Up To Cancer tribute, when Indians pitcher Carlos Carrasco joined his four All-Star teammates and manager Terry Francona on the field. They held up signs saying they support "Cookie" -- Carrasco's nickname, which the crowd chanted -- while Carrasco held his sign, which read, "I stand."
It's a reminder that baseball is just a tiny, little blip. The fans left happy, and maybe that's all that matters.
Ten thoughts on a baseball game in Cleveland:
1. Bieber's MVP inning: Bieber wasn't on the original All-Star roster, but the replacement entered in the top of the fifth inning and struck out the side on 19 pitches, showing why he is having a breakout season in the Cleveland rotation. He fanned the Chicago Cubs' Willson Contreras looking on a 2-2, 95 mph fastball, low and away. He fanned Ketel Marte of the Arizona Diamondbacks on a 3-2 curveball that drew admiration from Marte, as he saluted Bieber with a thumbs-up gesture. Then Bieber fanned Atlanta Braves outfielder Ronald Acuna Jr. looking on a 3-2 slider. Note the sequence: Fastball, curveball, slider. Note Bieber's remarkable story:
Five years ago, Shane Bieber was a college walk-on, and only because another player went pro and opened up a spot for him. And now, he's striking out the side in the All-Star Game as a capacity crowd chants, "Let's go, Bieber!" An incredible story.— Zack Meisel (@ZackMeisel) July 10, 2019
"I couldn't really feel my body that much because, like I said, the electricity and the atmosphere we had going, but also you didn't want to leave a cookie over the plate because these guys are so good, and they will take advantage of it," Bieber said. "Really just tried to fill up the zone as much as I could and go out there and get three outs. That was the main agenda."
The 1-2-3 inning earned Bieber MVP honors.
"Shane Bieber, he showed them something today," teammate Francisco Lindor said, beaming, after the game.
2. Cheers for Carrasco: The Indians starter hasn't pitched since May 30 as he battles leukemia. The latest reports indicate that he is expected to resume pitching at the end of July.
Former teammate Michael Brantley has remained in touch with Carrasco since he was diagnosed.
"He has a great supporting cast around him. He'll fight through this and get back on the mound," Brantley said.
Teammate Carlos Santana said the Stand Up To Cancer tribute was an emotional moment.
Bieber said it was an unbelievable moment: "Cookie, I've only known him for a year, but I can say for certain that he is one of the best teammates and best people I have ever met. Only he could turn what he is doing into a positive light, and he is going to the children's hospital, and he is spending time with them, and he is kind of reversing it on its heels. We are here for him, we love him, and we are standing with him."
The More You Know: @javy23baez and @JOLaMaKina, who'll probably face each other in the 3rd inning of the @AllStarGame today (they faced each other for the first time in the All-Star last year), went to same high school in Puerto Rico, and are married to sisters. pic.twitter.com/I39elXgreU— Marly Rivera (@MarlyRiveraESPN) July 9, 2019
Berrios gave up a leadoff double to Marte but then showed he could be a Cy Young contender by season's end as he worked out of the jam. He fanned Acuna on a curveball and got Yelich looking at a fastball to set up the showdown with his brother-in-law. Berrios has faced 481 batters so far in the regular season and thrown just 26 0-0 changeups. So of course he threw a first-pitch changeup to Baez, who popped it up to shallow left field.
José 📱: Listen bro we did it again. 💪🏽You're a criminal. I admire you. 🙌🏽 Blessed.— Jose O. Berrios (@JOLaMaKina) July 10, 2019
Javy📱: Bro what an experience. 🤐 you're nasty. May God continue blessing you.
See you right now. pic.twitter.com/y3dvy9volD
Francisco Lindor called Javy Báez via Face Time before Báez batted against José Berríos: "I was screaming at him, 'Here we go bro. I got my boy Berríos.' I wanted Berríos to win today and he did."#MNTwins #Indians #Cubs #ASG2019— Dan Hayes (@DanHayesMLB) July 10, 2019
4. Joey Gallo's bomb: In his only at-bat of the game, Gallo faced Giants reliever Will Smith in the seventh inning, with the AL leading 2-1, a runner on and two outs. Smith had allowed two home runs to left-handed batters the past three seasons. This probably isn't where he wanted his pitch:
Maybe don't throw the ball there to Joey Gallo pic.twitter.com/MEtb71n02y— Rockiesfan4ever (@Rockiesfan4ever) July 10, 2019
Gallo blasted a ball into the right-center field stands at 111.5 mph. It was the hardest-hit home run in an All-Star Game in the Statcast era (since 2015).
"Running the bases, I didn't really understand the magnitude of it," Gallo said. "I was like, 'This is an All-Star Game.' I watched this game growing up, and now I hit a home run in it."
Gallo even felt the All-Star celebration during the pregame introductions: "I kept hearing them announce all these superstars' names, and then they said my name, and I was like, 'I'm in a lineup with Mike Trout, George Springer, Mookie Betts and those guys.' It's pretty special."
5. Max Muncy plays second base in an All-Star Game: We mentioned Bieber's story. Muncy's is no less remarkable. At the start of the 2017 season, after the A's released him after 2016, he was out a job for two months before finally latching on with the Dodgers. He spent all of 2016 in the minors, then hit 35 home runs last year -- and his 22 home runs at the break made him a first-time All-Star.
That's amazing enough, but Muncy was primarily a first baseman/third baseman in the minors, starting just 12 games at second. He has started 31 games there for the Dodgers in 2019. He made a diving stop there in this game and threw out Santana to rob him of a base hit -- with help from a great stretch from Pete Alonso, who was miked up on the play:
Pete Alonso, mic'd up after his stretch-n-scoop at first base:— David Adler (@_dadler) July 10, 2019
"Yeah, that's ... I don't know if I was on the bag on that one, though."
"Oh, I was on there, hell! Hell yeah!"
[sees another replay]
"I'm on there! Heeelllllllllllll yeah! There we go!"
6. Players miked up: It's an exhibition game. This is fun. It works. At one point, we had Astros Alex Bregman, George Springer and Michael Brantley hooked up together. At another point, Yelich and Bellinger. Here's Freddie Freeman batting in the first inning:
Freddie Freeman might have a future in broadcasting. 😂 pic.twitter.com/siDHZLf4jk— MLB (@MLB) July 10, 2019
7. Big ovation for Brantley: Yes, another Cleveland moment. Brantley was a three-time All-Star for the Indians before signing with the Astros as a free agent. He received a big ovation during the pregame introductions and another one before his at-bat in the second inning against Clayton Kershaw, when he lined a two-out double into the left-center gap to score Bregman for the first run of the game.
"It's one of the things I'll always remember about Cleveland," Brantley said after the game. "They always supported me when I was here. To get a reception like that and a warm ovation is pretty special."
8. Scoreboard gaffes: OK, it wasn't all smooth sailing and good vibes, as the scoreboard operators misspelled Willson Contreras' name, had David Dahl listed as "Davis Dahl" and used Jacob deGrom's photo for Mets teammate Jeff McNeil.
Infielder/outfielder McNeil is another great story, a guy who started last year batting ninth in Double-A and became an All-Star while leading the majors with a .349 average.
McNeil wasn't too happy about the scoreboard error.
"That can't really happen, I don't think," he said. "I work so hard to make it to the All-Star Game. That's one of the things you look at, you know? What's going on? You check everything out, but it is what it is, I guess."
Hire an editor, folks.
9. All the strikeouts: The American League pitching staff finished with an All-Star record of 16 strikeouts in a nine-inning game -- a reminder that despite all the attention on home runs this season, there is some pretty good pitching to appreciate as well.
"It's the All-Star Game," McNeil said. "I mean, everybody is going to be extremely good and extremely hard to hit. Most All-Star Games are low-scoring, so I'm not surprised."
Brewers catcher Yasmani Grandal offered his take.
"Pitching has changed completely from what it was seven, eight years ago from when I first started," Grandal said. "I don't think it was anything surprising. We had some good arms as well. I think most of these guys have really good arms. I think our league has got some young arms that we're going to be seeing in the All-Star Game for a very long time."
Reds starter Luis Castillo is one of those young guys, and he had maybe the most impressive inning of the game. He fanned two in his 1-2-3 inning, averaging 98 mph with his fastball and getting seven swing-and-misses on 15 pitches, including four on the six changeups he threw.
10. The AL wins again: When Aroldis Chapman came on to close out the AL's 4-3 lead, Cleveland fans greeted him with a chorus of boos. Yes, he plays for the Yankees -- but he played for the Cubs in 2016.
"The fans here are very passionate," Lindor said. "They knew he beat us in the World Series."
Chapman finished it off with three straight strikeouts.
It was the AL's seventh win in a row. For some of us who grew up when the two leagues hated each other, that would be a big deal. It's no longer a big deal, even if it does bring a few smiles to AL fans.