Chase Utley put an imaginary coin on his thumb and pretended to flip it. Who deserves to start the All-Star Game more, Clayton Kershaw or Adam Wainwright?
“That’s my answer,” the Phillies second baseman said.
It might have been Mike Matheny’s, too. As manager of the Cardinals, he wants to honor his workhorse ace. As manager of the NL All-Stars, he wants a brilliant, shutdown starter to face a power-laden AL lineup. In Wainwright, he managed to do both — even though it meant, for a second consecutive season, denying Kershaw the prestigious assignment.
Making that choice “was not an easy task, even though it may have looked that way,” Matheny said. “A lot of deserving pitchers [are] out there, but none more so than our Adam Wainwright.”
American League manager John Farrell had perhaps a little easier job, especially once Yankees ace Masahiro Tanaka was injured last week. The Red Sox skipper has Yu Darvish and Max Scherzer on his staff, but “given what he’s done over his long and successful career, and what he’s doing this year,” Farrell said, he settled on Seattle’s Felix Hernandez, who is 11-2 with a 2.12 ERA.
Hernandez appeared honored by the decision. His catcher, Salvador Perez of Kansas City, seemed even more thrilled. “One hundred percent,” said Perez, like Hernandez a native of Venezuela. “I’m excited to be the first two Venezuelans, pitcher and catcher, to start an All-Star Game.”
The NL battery is more domestic, with Georgia native Wainwright throwing to Brewers catcher Jonathan Lucroy, a Floridian. Lucroy said he has plenty of respect for a technician such as Wainwright, especially in these days when pitchers seem to throw harder every year.
“There seems to be a huge influx of those 100-mph guys,” said Lucroy, chosen by Matheny to replace injured starter Yadier Molina. “Wainwright’s one of those guys who doesn’t throw mid-90s. He stays around 90 [mph], but he’s able to locate so well, he doesn’t need to throw so hard.”
Apparently not. Wainwright has limited the opposition to two runs or fewer in 16 of his 19 starts, and he’s shut them out nine times, including a pair of complete-game shutouts. He’s 12-4 with a 1.83 ERA (second only to Kershaw’s 1.78), and has failed to go at least seven innings only three times.
“He makes it look so easy,” Cardinals reliever Pat Neshek said. “You kind of just smile when he pitches, because it’s like getting a night off. He goes seven at the minimum.”
He’ll go only an inning or two Tuesday, when the All-Star Game returns to Minnesota for the first time since 1985, and then likely give way to Kershaw, the Dodgers’ two-time Cy Young winner who no-hit the Rockies last month and put together a 41-inning scoreless streak. Kershaw had similarly awesome numbers last season but was bypassed then, too, so Mets righthander Matt Harvey could have the honor in Citi Field, his home park.
For Wainwright, the thrills will start with the first batter. Derek Jeter, playing in his 15th and final All-Star Game, will lead off for the American League.
“I’ve been in the big leagues for nine years, and I’ve never faced him,” Wainwright said of the Yankees shortstop. “I’m very excited about it, to say I’ve faced the best. And he’s undoubtedly one of the best to ever play the position, one of the greatest Yankees of all time.”
One of the greatest Twins of all time will throw out the ceremonial first pitch — seven-time batting champion Rod Carew has been given the honor — and then Target Field will be taken over by baseball’s best, including a couple of versatile, powerful lineups. The National League features an outfield of Andrew McCutchen, Yasiel Puig and Carlos Gomez, a trio who can cover ground and launch baseballs into the seats.
The American League has a legend leading off in Jeter, and perhaps the best player in the game, Angels center fielder Mike Trout, right behind him. And the 4-5-6 hitters, Miguel Cabrera, Jose Bautista and Nelson Cruz, own some of the longest home runs ever hit in Target Field.
Meanwhile, a couple of native Minnesotans will wrestle with the reality of wearing an All-Star uniform in their home state. Neshek and Twins closer Glen Perkins, once teammates in the Metrodome bullpen, will soak in the cheers of their fellow Minnesotans, a dream neither ever imagined would come true.