Baseball has died a thousand deaths.
Labor stoppages were sure to kill it … but didn’t. Steroids would strangle it … but didn’t. The rise of the NFL, slow play and pitching injuries supposedly pose clear and present threats to the game, if you believe in this generation’s version of baseball Armageddon.
Here is the test of baseball’s sustainability for Minnesota: If you took a seat at Target Field on Tuesday night, and were not taken by the beauty and drama of the game, and the class and talent of the players, then it is time to don bike pants and turn your attention to the Tour de France.
If you were not entertained by the 85th All-Star Game, baseball is not for you.
On a chamber-of-commerce night in a ballpark that didn’t need mascara for its close-up, the best all-star game there is delivered the goods, from Derek Jeter’s cap tip in the first inning to Glen Perkins’ celebratory glove slap in the ninth.
The American League defeated the National League 5-3 with Perkins recording the save while pitching to Twins catcher Kurt Suzuki, on a night when fans cheered as loudly for a Yankee as they did for Perkins, a lifelong Minnesotan.
“Moments like that,” Perkins said, “are why you play.”
This was destined to be Jeter’s night, if not his game.
He made a diving stop to start the game, although he couldn’t throw out Andrew McCutchen.
He received a long ovation before leading off the bottom of the first, tipped his cap in all directions, then lined a double down the right field line before scoring on Mike Trout’s triple.
He singled to right in his next at-bat, then he jogged to the field in the top of the fourth.
AL manager John Farrell sent out his replacement, Alexei Ramirez, so Jeter could receive a farewell ovation on his last trip to the Target Field dugout. In a city that loathes and fears the Yankees, “New York, New York” played.
NL starter Adam Wainwright said he grooved a couple of pitches to Jeter, trying to help him go out in style, then later recanted. Jeter handled the instant controversy with typical class, saying that if Wainwright gave him pitches to hit, “thank you. But you’ve still got to hit them.”
The AL took the lead during a tour-de-force first inning highlighting three of the game’s biggest stars. Jeter singled, displaying his patented inside-out swing. Trout tripled, showing off his power and speed in one burst. Miguel Cabrera launched a gravity-defying home run to left, and it was 3-0.
“I said, ‘This is great,’ ” Perkins said. “Let’s hold them right here, pitch a shutout, and I’ll come in for the save up three runs.”
The NL rallied to tie the score, before the AL took a 5-3 lead in the fifth. Perkins had been told he would pitch the ninth if there was a save opportunity.
“Time stopped once we scored those two runs,” he said.
When Farrell called in Perkins for the ninth, he was stunned by the ovation he heard, and the eventual chants of “Let’s Go Per-kins.” He pitched for Stillwater High, and the Gophers, and has been with the Twins since 2006. His sum total of All-Star Game and postseason outs recorded in the big leagues was, at that moment, one.
“It was an overwhelming moment, to hear the buildup of the crowd,” Perkins said. “And then the chanting. That doesn’t happen in the regular season.”
He retired Miguel Montero on a flyout, struck out Josh Harrison and then smiled as he looked around the field. Two pitches later, he got Charlie Blackmon on a grounder to second and slapped his glove with his hand.
Jeter played in his 13th All-Star Game on Tuesday, while Perkins made his first All-Star appearance, in his home park. For a night, they shared a clubhouse, and a victory handshake.
“What a year to be an All-Star,” Suzuki said.
What a night for the summer game, here and everywhere.