The final score was 5-3 American League, but few people will remember much about the actual game they played in Target Field on Tuesday night. They’ll remember the heartfelt sendoff that baseball and his fellow players gave Derek Jeter, the psychic transfer of power to boy king Mike Trout, and the group hug that Minnesota enjoyed with one of its own.
“It’s a night I’ll never forget,” Twins closer Glen Perkins after tuning out the din of 41,048 chanting his name while he recorded the final three outs, with the help of recent Minnesota import Kurt Suzuki, for his first All-Star save. The whole experience, Perkins said, “met my expectations — and more.”
Just imagine how Jeter feels. The only way the selection to his 14th and final All-Star Game could have been more perfect was if, after diving to his left for Andrew McCutchen’s hard grounder on the game’s first play, he had thrown out the Pirates speedster at first. McCutchen was safe by a millisecond, proof that not every moment was scripted for TV.
But when the inning ended, the tributes began. As Jeter strode to the plate to lead off for the American League, the recorded voice of legendary Yankee Stadium public address announcer Bob Sheppard intoned his name: “Jee-tah.” The Yankees captain stood at the plate, waiting for a pitcher who wasn’t going to do him the favor of cutting off the ovation.
“I just wanted him to enjoy it. I thought that was his moment,” NL starter Adam Wainwright said. “I put my glove up and just backed up almost to second base, just saying, ‘Dude, I’m not going anywhere until this ovation dies down.’ … I’d still be standing out there if they were still cheering.”
They were cheering even louder and longer in the fourth inning, when Jeter took the field with the rest of the AL stars, but Chicago’s Alexei Ramirez soon jogged out to relieve him. The shortstops hugged, “New York, New York” played in the stadium, Jeter tipped his cap to the crowd, took congratulations from the entire AL dugout and returned to the field for one final salute.
“It was a wonderful moment that I’m always going to remember,” he said. “For them to do that, that was much better than if there was something scripted.”
Jeter, who finished with a single, a double and countless ovations, said he was uncomfortable with the attention — but especially touched by Wainwright’s gesture. “I tried to tell him to pick [his glove] up, let’s go. He let the fans give me an ovation, which I’ll always remember,” Jeter said. “For him to do that says a lot about him and how much of a class act he is.”
How much of a class act is in dispute. Jeter doubled into the right field corner on Wainwright’s second pitch, a 90-mph cutter, and Wainwright said shortly after coming out of the game that he “was going to give [Jeter] a couple pipe shots,” baseball jargon for fat pitches down the middle. “I didn’t know he was going to hit a double, or I’d have changed my mind.”
But Wainwright said later he was joking, and Cardinals manager Mike Matheny angrily denied that Wainwright had let up. “Anybody that knows anything about this guy knows that he’s one of the greatest competitors that played this game,” Matheny said. “Adam Wainwright went out there to compete.”
Whatever the case, Wainwright was probably being totally sincere when he said, “I’m glad I got to face him. It’s something I can always say to my kids, that I faced one of the greatest of all time.”
More than one in that inning alone, actually. After Jeter’s double, Trout followed by ricocheting a 3-2 cutter off the right field wall, and by the time the ball was relayed to the infield, the next “Game’s Greatest Player” had slid headfirst into third base with a triple, scoring Jeter. Wainwright struck out Robinson Cano for the first out, but then made a mistake — well, it’s not a mistake to any other batter — to Detroit’s Miguel Cabrera, a sinker that was 4 inches inside. “Nobody keeps that ball fair,” Wainwright said.
Cabrera kept it fair, but not in play. He drilled a line-drive screamer that cleared the wall in left field by a couple of feet, giving the AL a 3-0 first-inning lead.
The National League rallied to tie, thanks to a pair of RBI doubles by Brewers catcher Jonathan Lucroy. But the American League took the lead for good — and earned home-field advantage in the World Series — when Pat Neshek, introduced as “from the Park Center Pirates,” his high school in Brooklyn Park, allowed two runs on three hits. The big blow was a double that Trout, named the game’s MVP for his two extra-base hits, whistled down the left-field line. “Nobody in the park was more amped up tonight than Neshek,” Matheny said.
Unless it was Perkins, who jogged in to a loud roar from the hometown fans in the ninth inning, and found Suzuki waiting on the mound to catch him. “It was an overwhelming moment to hear,” Perkins said. “It got louder and louder.” Three quick outs, one a strikeout, and the thrill was complete.
Neshek shouldn’t be sad, Perkins said, because he probably felt the same way he did, as a native Minnesotan. “I thought about that — if I give up a three-run homer, I’m going to be bummed out,” Perkins said, “but I still got to pitch in an All-Star Game in front of a home crowd.”