First inning: Detroit Tigers pitcher Justin Verlander starts the 2012 All-Star Game with a 97 mph fastball. This is unusual. Verlander often starts games throwing in the low 90s and saves his best fastballs for the later innings. But there won’t be any later innings in an All-Star Game, so the reigning American League Cy Young and MVP Award winner isn’t wasting any time. He’s gassing it up right now.
The National League’s leadoff hitter, Colorado’s Carlos Gonzalez, sees two more fastballs in the upper 90s and then strikes out on an 83 mph curve. One out into the game and this will be the high point for Verlander and the American League.
Former Royal and current San Francisco Giant Melky Cabrera starts the onslaught , lining a single to left field on a 98 mph fastball. Ryan Braun then doubles over Toronto’s Jose Bautista’s head in right field. Bautista gets a poor break on the ball and chases it to the wall. Cabrera scores.
Kauffman Stadium’s spacious outfield — more square footage than any other field in the major leagues — can make visiting outfielders look lost. Toronto’s Rogers Centre’s right field foul pole is 328 feet from home plate, Kauffman’s is 330, but Kauffman’s wall drops off steeply from there. Royals left fielder Alex Gordon has said it can spook an outfielder when he turns and realizes just how much territory lies behind him.
Braun’s double will not be the only time Bautista struggles with the quirks in Kauffman. Verlander pumps up the velocity against the next batter, Joey Votto, reaching 100 miles an hour before finishing off Votto with an 81 mph curve. The difference in velocity — 19 miles an hour — locks Votto up and he strikes out looking.
Verlander then faces Carlos Beltran. The American League’s starting pitcher is now throwing his fastball between 99 and 101 miles an hour but can’t find the zone. Verlander’s fastball is high and he looks like he’s overthrowing. He walks Beltran and the AL pitching coach, Mike Maddux, walks to the mound.
Generally, pitching coaches want pitchers to look them in the eye during a mound visit. They want to make sure the pitcher is getting the message and understands what adjustment they’re being asked to make. Verlander turns away from Maddux and only looks at him briefly. For a pitcher in an All-Star Game, a first inning visit is not a good thing — especially when the visit is made by a pitching coach from another team. Verlander’s All-Star Game pitching coach and catcher — two people who are normally allies—are from a competing team in the American League.
Whatever Maddux has to say doesn’t help, Verlander walks Buster Posey and now the bases are loaded. Pablo Sandoval pulls a curveball down the right field line and Bautista misplays the ball off the base of the right field wall. It’s not just outfield depth, Kauffman’s curving corners can also give outfielders fits. Bautista finds himself too far from the wall to make a catch and too close to the wall to play the carom. The ball ricochets past Bautista and has to be chased down. Sandoval’s triple clears the bases, National League, 4-0.
The final defensive breakdown of the first inning comes on a ground ball by Dan Uggla. It takes shortstop Derek Jeter to his right and Jeter makes one of his trademark jump-throws to first base. Jeter one-hops the ball to Prince Fielder and Fielder — instead of extending his glove toward the short hop to smother it (as we’ve seen Eric Hosmer do many times) — backs up and lets the hop play him. It’s scored a single, but was a makeable play, the NL leads 5-0. In the bottom of the first, Derek Jeter starts the inning by beating out an infield single. The American League will then go on to make nine straight outs.
Fourth inning: Matt Harrison is now pitching for the American League and has gotten two quick outs. Rafael Furcal is batting from the right side and Harrison delivers a low and away fastball to Furcal. The Cardinals shortstop hits it the only place he can, down the right field line. Jose Bautista is playing well off the line and by the time he chases the ball down, Furcal is on third.
Matt Holliday singles, Furcal scores and now the National League leads 6-0. Harrison then tries to go up and in on Melky Cabrera and the eventual MVP of the game homers into the left field bullpen. National League 8, American League 0.
Before the inning is over, Ryan Braun will hit the third triple of the game. All have been hit down into the right field corner, which is no surprise — most triples are to right field, it’s the farthest spot from third base and requires a longer throw — but once again, Jose Bautista is nowhere near the right-field line on a fastball thrown on the outer half to a right-handed hitter.
It’s possible we’re seeing what happens when you throw players from different teams together with little time to get on the same page. The outfield defensive positioning does not seem to match the way the pitchers are throwing. Balls are being hit to unprotected parts of the field. The scoring is over, but the game still has some interesting moments:
The Washington Nationals’ Stephen Strasburg throws a scoreless inning, but gets hit hard by every batter he faces, except the one he walks.
Jered Weaver comes out to pitch for the AL in the fifth and walks Bryce Harper to lead off the inning. Harper does a nice job tagging and advancing to second on a fly ball to left fielder Josh Hamilton, but then gets caught off base when he misreads a ground ball hit back up the middle. Weaver makes a nice play to snag the ball and catches Harper between bases.
In the bottom of the inning, Clayton Kershaw of the Dodgers opens a door for the American League. Kershaw gives up a single, a single and a walk and then faces pinch hitter, Ian Kinsler of the Rangers with two outs and the bases loaded. Kinsler flies out to left field, ending the threat.
Buster Posey has caught the entire game for the NL up to this point, the only other catcher on the roster, Carlos Ruiz is down in the bullpen, figuring out how to catch a knuckleball. The Mets’ R.A. Dickey is warming up and Ruiz is trying to quickly familiarize himself with the best technique for handling a knuckler. (Ruiz shows the TV cameras the enormous mitt he’ll use to catch Dickey, but the mitt may not be his. Knuckleball pitchers often carry around a glove to lend to the catchers who have to catch them.)
Chipper Jones comes to the plate for his first appearance in Kauffman Stadium and his last appearance in an All-Star Game. On the first pitch, Jones hits a weak grounder to the right side. Kinsler, now playing second, breaks the wrong way. Ian first moves to his right, then corrects course and moves to his left. He also does not dive in an attempt to rob Jones of a hit. The score is 8-0 and a probable future Hall of Famer just had his last at-bat in an All Star game. Chipper Jones goes out with a hit.
In the seventh inning Kansas City fans finally see what they’ve been asking for: Billy Butler walks to the plate. Before the game, Billy said when facing the best pitchers in the league, he’d probably get one pitch to hit. If he didn’t hit it, he thought he’d be in trouble.
Butler takes a 95 mph fastball down the middle and never gets another good pitch to hit. Billy gets two 85 mph changeups and three more fastballs, none near the middle of the zone. The Royals DH grounds out, 5-3.
In his second at-bat, Butler does not even get one good pitch to hit. Pirates closer Joel Hanrahan starts Billy with a slider for a strike, a fastball for a ball, a slider for a swinging strike and after that, the Butler is battling, taking the pitches clearly out of the zone, fouling off the ones too close to take and waiting for a mistake. It never comes. Butler strikes out swinging on a borderline 98 mph fastball.
In the final inning, Tony LaRussa uses three pitchers, a fitting end to his managing career. La Russa goes out a winner and makes more moves than he has to while doing so.
The 2012 All-Star Game is over. The 2012 regular season resumes on Friday. Royals vs. White Sox, the grind starts up once more.