BY CRAIG DAVIS
MIAMI – Baseball’s All-Star Game got back to its roots Tuesday, as an exhibition of the best players in the game.
No more a gimmick tied to the World Series, the first All-Star Game in South Florida was about putting the spotlight on the skill and personality of the star players, as when Babe Ruth hit the first and decisive home run in the inaugural in 1933. The 88th edition at Marlins Park in Little Havana also featured a bow to the diversity and baseball heritage of the region.
The type of scenario that led to the game being used to decide home-field advantage in the championship series, an extra-inning tie in 2002, was averted when game MVP Robinson Cano hit a leadoff home run in the 10th inning off Wade Davis for a 2-1 American League victory, its fifth in a row.
The unscripted part of the show belonged to the pitchers in a lethargic contest that produced little in memorable moments. There were 22 strikeouts in the game, 14 by NL pitchers.
Featured stars of the day included the modern incarnation of the Babe, Aaron Judge, the New York Yankees latest big bopper.
And in recognition of the setting, there were Miami Bryce — fans’ voting favorite Bryce Harper making the scene styling the Don Johnson look, as well as Miami Marlins All-Stars Giancarlo Stanton and Marcell Ozuna in the starting lineup for the National League.
A little thrill
Yadier Molina, the Cardinals’ eight-time All-Star from Puerto Rico, gave the crowd a thrill by sending an opposite-field home run to right off Zack Greinke to tie it at 1-1 for the National League in the sixth. Two days before turning 35, he is the oldest catcher to homer in an All-Star Game.
The game lacked the excitement of Monday’s Home Run Derby, when Judge took Stanton’s title with dazzling display of power including several blasts longer than 500 feet. The towering rookie, leading the majors with 30 homers, failed to get a hit in three at-bats. He had one long out on a deep fly to right-center.
Hispanic players honored
Stanton had a dud of a night in his home park, striking out twice and grounding out on a dribbler in front of the plate. Ozuna was hitless in two-at bats.
“It was a lot like the (World Baseball Classic),” Stanton said. “Just a lot of excitement and a lot of good energy. Fun times and everyone enjoying themselves.”
A gathering that produced 28 first-time All-Stars and 23 born outside the United States, began with a video tribute to several historic Hispanic players.
Tony Perez, Orlando Cepeda, Roberto Alomar, Pedro Martinez and former Marlin Pudge Rodriguez (a 2017 Hall of Fame inductee) threw ceremonial pitchers. Stanton presented a bouquet of flowers to the widow of Roberto Clemente.
Fans and friends
Fittingly, Jose Ramirez, a native of the Dominican Republic, banged out the first hit of the night, a solid single to right off Max Scherzer.
“I feel like I’m in the Dominican right now,” Cardinals pitcher Carlos Martinez said before the game. “I have a lot of fans here, and actually all my family came here too.”
Martinez had his locker in the National League clubhouse between countryman and longtime friend Ozuna, the Marlins outfielder making his second All-Star start, and that of the late Jose Fernandez, which the Marlins have preserved behind glass.
Fernandez, killed in a boat crash in September, would have likely been a star attraction, if not the NL starter in this game. Martinez knelt and scrawled Fernandez’s No. 16 in the dirt on the mound before throwing the first pitch of the third inning.
Harper was wearing special cleats bearing the likeness of Fernandez when he raced from right field into the gap to make a lunging catch to steal a hit from Venezuela-born Salvador Perez to end the second inning.
Coming midway through South Florida’s 25th season with a major league team, the turn in the national spotlight concluded a wait that began soon after the then-Florida Marlins began play in 1993.
Marlins sale rumor
The Marlins were awarded the 2000 game, only to have it yanked by MLB amid uncertainty about the future of the franchise amid a payroll purge following the 1997 World Series championship and with original owner H. Wayne Huizenga attempting to sell the team.
Coincidentally, today’s Marlins reportedly are on the brink of being sold, though owner Jeffrey Loria insisted prior to Tuesday’s game, “There’s no deal, so stop talking deal,” though he did concede, “at some point maybe. Everybody sells something, maybe.”
Perhaps not coincidentally, Miami billionaire Jorge Mas, who according to various reports will soon become the Marlins’ next owner, was seated near the home dugout, one row behind Loria.
The crowd had a comfortable wait before the first run crossed the plate for the AL in the top of the fifth. Jonathan Schoop of the Orioles doubled down the line in left off Alex Wood and scored on Miguel Sano’s blooper that fell for a single near the line in right.
Nelson Cruz, before stepping to the plate in the sixth, staged a tribute of his own by pausing to have catcher Molina snap a photo of him with home plate ump Joe West, a Weston resident who recently worked his 5,000th game.
Molina staged a special moment of his own the bottom of the inning when he sent a 2-2 fastball into the bullpen in right.