All-Star Game notes: David Ortiz, the most beloved All-Star, says goodbye
SAN DIEGO — The fanfare wasn’t the same as it was for Mariano Rivera, who took the field alone in his final All-Star Game, or Derek Jeter, who received a prolonged standing ovation upon his removal.
David Ortiz isn’t as exalted Rivera or Jeter, but Tom Verducci summed it up perfectly in FOX’s pre-game show. Rivera was the most respected among his peers, Jeter the most admired. But Ortiz is the most beloved.
So it was that the entire American League left the dugout to greet Ortiz when he was replaced for pinch-runner Edwin Encarnacion after drawing a walk with one out in the third inning Tuesday night.
Ortiz’s legacy is not yet clear — he reportedly tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs in 2003, when no penalties were in place, the results were supposed to remain anonymous and legal supplements could have triggered an initial positive test.
Ortiz’s lack of defensive contribution as a DH for the majority of his career will further complicate his Hall of Fame case. But really, these are arguments for another day. Players love Ortiz, Latin players especially. He is a mentor, a favorite uncle, a larger-than-life figure within the sport.
"He’s not only a leader of the Red Sox, but he’s a leader of Major League Baseball," All-Star MVP Eric Hosmer said after the AL’s 4-2 victory. "He’s constantly giving back. He’s constantly spreading knowledge throughout the entire league."
Ortiz’s final All-Star experience began with a pre-game speech to his teammates. He carried out the lineup card to home plate for the AL. And while he failed to deliver with typical Big Papi flourish, going 0 for 1 with a walk, the evening amounted to a fitting All-Star farewell.
"I know he enjoyed it," Red Sox right-hander Steven Wright said. "He’s earned that. He’s earned that respect. That’s the type of player he is, the type of person he is. He treats everyone the same. He treats everyone well."
The Royals would never say it publicly, but some of their people drew extra satisfaction Tuesday night from the home runs that Eric Hosmer and Salvador Perez hit off NL starter Johnny Cueto in the second inning.
Cueto, of course, was part of the Royals’ World Series championship team last season, but he had a rocky tenure with the club after arriving in a trade from the Reds in late July.
At one point in September, according to Andy McCullough, then with the Kansas City Star, Cueto met with manager Ned Yost and pitching coach Dave Eiland. He told them that he was uncomfortable with Perez’s positioning, that he wanted Perez to position his mitt lower, back up off the plate and set up later than normal.
Some with the Royals took offense to Cueto effectively blaming Perez for his struggles. The World Series triumph healed most wounds, particularly after Cueto beat the Mets with a complete game in Game 2. But one Royals person, noting the home runs by Perez and Hosmer on Tuesday night, could not help but crack, "(Buster) Posey wasn’t setting up right in the second inning."
The day of the All-Star announcements, Astros manager A.J. Hinch informed his players of their selections not in one-on-one meetings, but in a clubhouse gathering with the entire club.
First, Hinch mentioned second baseman Jose Altuve, who pretty much knew that he would be an elected starter. Then he mentioned outfielder George Springer, who was part of the Final Vote.
Finally, Hinch pretended the meeting was over, then said, "Oh, I forgot to tell you one really good story. This guy has had two great years for us, should have been an All-Star last year …"
The clubhouse erupted, and everyone surrounded Will Harris rather than Altuve or Springer.
Little did anyone know, Harris would get the biggest out of the game, striking out the Cardinals’ Aledmys Diaz on a 3-2 count with two outs and the bases loaded in the eighth inning.
Harris said he did not expect to enter the game at that moment — he had been told to prepare for the Diamondbacks’ Paul Goldschmidt two batters later.
But when the Reds’ Adam Duvall fought Andrew Miller of the Yankees for a nine-pitch walk to load the bases, Royals bullpen coach Doug Henry told Harris, "If you can go in now, we need you now."
"Adrenaline carried me through," Harris said. "I’ve always been able to get ready pretty quick. It wasn’t anything I wasn’t used to.
"The TV breaks are so long here, I got like 12 extra pitches on the mound. The clock was like at a minute-and-a-half and I was done with my eight (warmups), my normal routine. The guy behind the plate (Kerwin Danley) said ‘You’ve got time.’ It worked out well for me.
Diaz looked at a perfectly placed cut fastball for strike three.
"A down and away cutter is kind of my bread and butter," Harris said. "If I’m going to get beat, he’s going to have to hit the ball hard on my best pitch."
The ninth inning also was not easy for the AL — the NL’s Daniel Murphy led off with a single after working an eight-pitch at-bat in a left-left matchup against Orioles closer Zach Britton.
To Britton, the prolonged battle actually proved helpful.
"You want to have fun. At the same, you’ve got to be serious," Britton said. "It was a pretty good thing that Daniel had a good at-bat off of me. I could settle in."
Britton’s trademark pitch is a bowling-ball sinker, but he threw Murphy a 2-2 slider; afterward, he recalled giving up a hit to Bryce Harper on a slider in last year’s game as well.
"I guess I throw more sliders during the All-Star Game than normal," Britton joked.
Not to worry, Britton got Goldschmidt to bounce into a forceout, then got help from the Rockies’ Nolan Arenado, who failed to run hard on a game-ending double play.
"I actually thought there were two outs, so I kind of fell asleep there," Arenado told reporters afterward.
• Aledmys Diaz’s father, Rigo, told me that Diaz and Marlins right-hander Jose Fernandez grew up five houses apart from each other in Santa Clara, Cuba — and that Diaz’s uncle, Nelson, was the first person to teach Fernandez how to pitch.
When the boyhood friends reunited on the team bus Monday, Diaz said, "Let’s go find your mom."
• Blue Jays right-hander Aaron Sanchez actually appeared in his second All-Star Game at Petco; the first occurred in 2009 when he was in high school and pitched in the AFLAC All-American Baseball Classic.
Sanchez, then 17, signed autographs alongside a catcher from Las Vegas High School named Bryce Harper after the game.
• A year ago at this time, the Reds’ Duvall was in Triple A with the Giants. On July 30, he got called into the dugout in seventh inning and was told that Giants GM Bobby Evans was on the phone.
Evans informed Duvall that there was a trade pending and that he might be headed to the Reds. Duvall went back out to play defense, then received another call from Evans when he returned to the dugout saying the deal was complete.
The Giants ended up with Mike Leake, and Duvall finally went to a place where he could play every day — and become an All-Star.