Commentary

Giants trample any All-Star doubts

Melky Cabrera, Pablo Sandoval, Matt Cain lead National League's demolition show

Originally Published: July 10, 2012
By Jayson Stark | ESPN.com

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Well, it's official. We're all idiots. All of us.

OK, maybe not all of us on the entire planet. But all of us media geniuses who spent the past week and a half weighing in on this All-Star Game. We're clearly idiots.

What other conclusion is there now that we can look back on the National League's 8-0 wipeout of the mighty American League on Tuesday in the 83rd All-Star Game in baseball history?

We didn't think Pablo Sandoval should be the NL's starting third baseman, right? We didn't think Buster Posey should be the NL's starting catcher, right? We weren't so sure about Melky Cabrera starting in the outfield or Matt Cain being the starting pitcher, either, right?

[+] EnlargePablo Sandoval
H. Darr Beiser-USA Today Sports/US PresswirePablo Sandoval's three-run triple highlighted a five-run first inning for the National League.

Well, we're idiots. Period.

We should have known all along that, of course, Sandoval would go out and shock the world with a three-run, first-inning triple off Justin Verlander -- the first bases-clearing triple in All-Star Game history.

And, of course, Posey would be one of the three runners scoring on that triple and would spend the rest of his evening catching five innings of the NL's first All-Star shutout since 1996.

Of course, Cain would twirl two shutout innings and wind up as the winning pitcher.

And, of course, it was the Melk Man who would deliver a first-inning hit off Verlander, followed by a game-breaking, two-run homer in the fourth inning and would finish his route by bringing home an MVP award to all his dairy lovers out west.

Of course. Never, ever in doubt.

So just a few hours after the commissioner of baseball, Bud Selig, was asked if he was concerned about whether the Giants and their fans had committed any improprieties in the way they voted in all their heroes over theoretically more deserving players, the Giants who showed up in Kansas City were kind enough to answer that question for him.

We'll never know what would have happened Tuesday night if the fans hadn't voted the way they voted and the "right" players were starting this All-Star Game. But the rest of the National League sure wasn't complaining about how this one worked out.

And they won't be complaining if they have a Game 7 of the World Series to play in a few months -- in their home park -- either.

"Whoever ends up making it to the World Series [from the National League] should thank Giants Nation for their votes," said NL left fielder Ryan Braun, "because all those guys had phenomenal games."

Do you ever think, as you watch games like this, that certain things that happen in sports must have been meant to be? Do you ever suspect, on nights like this night, that the forces in the universe must have just lined up to write their very own special scripts?

[+] EnlargeMelky Cabrera
Scott Rovak/USA Today Sports/US PresswireMelky Cabrera, who played for the Royals in 2011, earned MVP honors, going 2-for-3 with a two-run homer in the fourth inning.

Well, if you don't, it's time to think about it, because this was one very surreal night.

The great Justin Verlander gave up five runs in the first inning. How many times had he done that in his major league life? Twice -- in 217 starts. How many times had any American League starter ever done that in an All-Star Game? Never. So how'd that happen?

Sandoval hit a bases-loaded triple. How many times had he done that in his career? Never. How many times had any player done it in any of the previous 82 All-Star Games? That would also be never. So how'd that happen?

Hey, it was that kind of night. That's how it happened. It happened because it was meant to happen. Or that's what it felt like, at least.

"It was the perfect storm, you know?" said the great Chipper Jones, after the final All-Star Game of his historic career. "I mean, what can you say? The baseball gods were on our side tonight. And, hopefully, I had a little something to do with it. The Good Lord wanted me to go out a winner."

Once upon a time, Jones had started at third base in the previous All-Star shutout spun by his league, back in '96. But since then, his many All-Star appearances all had one thing in common:

He didn't play for the winning team in any of them.

But before this game, his final game, his manager, Tony La Russa, approached him and asked if he'd like to say a few words to the other All-Stars in his locker room. Without hesitation, the Chipmeister said yes.

So he did. He told them it was an honor to be in the same room with them. He told them to "soak up" the moment. He reminded them the National League had won two of these All-Star Games in a row. And he finished by saying, "I am NOT going out losing my last one."

OK, so it wasn't quite vintage George Gipp. It might not even have been vintage George Costanza. But we need to remember something, said Jones' Braves teammate Dan Uggla:

[+] EnlargeChipper Jones
Dilip Vishwanat/Getty ImagesChipper Jones made an emotional pregame speech to his NL teammates, and then got a pinch-hit single in his final All-Star Game at-bat.

As eloquent as Chipper might be, it's hard to stand there in an All-Star locker room and make a speech that matters, to the greatest players in the game, in the final All-Star Game of your career, "just because there's going to be emotion involved," Uggla said. "Because of the situation, you're talking meaningful words that will be heartfelt. And he did it. He did it with the best of 'em."

Did it work the way it was supposed to work? You decide. A National League team that had never scored five times in the first inning of any All-Star Game ever played then went out and scored five times against the Best Pitcher Alive. So, "who knows, man," Uggla said. "Obviously, it triggered something."

"All I can tell you is he talked about being ready to play, and they were definitely ready to play," said La Russa. "So why not draw the connection? If you say it, who's going to say you're wrong?"

Well, whatever happened in that first inning, it was something to see -- and impossible to comprehend.

Cabrera lined a one-out single on a 98 mph Verlander flameball. Then Braun scored him with a double on another 98 mph heater.

Then, with two outs and the bases full, up marched the Panda -- the man us idiots had decided was less deserving of starting this game than any other player on either team. But the great thing about this moment is that none of the pregame blabbering mattered anymore.

All that mattered was that a guy firing baseballs 100 miles an hour was standing 60 feet away from a man who loves to hit any kind of baseball, no matter how swiftly it's traveling. It was sporting beauty at its finest.

Asked afterward what he knew about Verlander, Sandoval smiled and replied: "Nothing. I never faced him before. So I didn't know nothing."

Verlander took a stroll behind the mound, took a deep breath, then ran the count to 1 and 1 with two more supersonic smoke balls. Sandoval arched his back, dug in and rocked in the box. Verlander climbed right back atop the rubber and looked for the sign. Then here it came …

Not another 99 mph inferno, but Verlander's just-as-scary, kneecap-buckling curve ball -- a pitch so effective he hadn't allowed a single two-out hit on it all season. Well, the rest of the population might have gone 0-for-27 in that situation against that nasty pitch. But the Panda hadn't gotten that memo.

[+] EnlargeJustin Verlander
AP Photo/Charlie NeibergallJustin Verlander became the first All-Star Game starter to allow five runs in the first inning.

"I just swung hard," he said with a laugh. "I'm famous for swinging hard. So I did."

So he pounded this particular baseball off the right-field wall. National Leaguers went rampaging around the bases. Sandoval stormed into third, eyeballs blazing. And all a mystified Verlander could do was merely shake his head.

It was the first time a third baseman had driven in three runs with any kind of hit in an All-Star Game since an Al Rosen three-run homer off Robin Roberts in 1955. It was just the second time Verlander had allowed three runs on any kind of hit since May 2011. But nobody ever said these All-Star Games had to follow the usual scripts, right?

"Yeah, I didn't expect that to happen," said Buster Posey. "I didn't expect him to hit a triple."

But the forces in the universe were already veering out of control by then. It was 4-0 once Sandoval had finished roaring into third base. It was 5-0 after Uggla bounced an RBI single through the infield. And incredibly, the National League's No. 9 hitter, Rafael Furcal, found himself heading for the plate.

In the first inning.

In a game started by Justin Verlander.

"That was unbelievable," Furcal said. "I thought I'd get my first at-bat in the third inning, not the first inning."

But this game was never going to get any closer. A Matt Holliday RBI single made it 6-0 in the fourth. Then, five pitches later, the Melk Man fired a laser-beam, two-run homer into the left-field bullpen. It was the first All-Star homer hit by a Giant not named Barry Bonds in 20 years (since Will Clark, in '92). And the National League, shockingly, led by eight runs -- for the first time in the history of the All-Star Game.

No team had ever blown an eight-run lead in one of these games. So at that point, we knew how this was going to turn out. We just had to clear the stage for Chipper and his poignant All-Star sayonara.

Finally, he popped out of the dugout and sauntered toward the plate in the top of the sixth inning. And as 40,933 paying customers rose to salute him, even the Chipster had to admit it got him a little "teary." But amid all those thumps of his heart, he still knew what he was there to do.

"I was a little misty, I must say," he confessed. "But you're not going to get a hit unless you swing the bat. So I was going to get my three swings in."

Nobody is ever going to be happy with all nine starters. That's what happens when the fans are given the responsibility to pick the teams. ... But you know what? That's OK. It worked out real good for us tonight.

-- Chipper Jones

But it took him only one swing. It resulted in an attractive little 97-hopper that skipped through the right side. And let's just say that AL second baseman Ian Kinsler wasn't exactly hell-bent to catch it. But a hit was a hit was a hit. And Chipper Jones wasn't planning to renounce this one on style points.

"Aw, I had that beat out [whether Kinsler had caught it or not], no problem," he deadpanned. "I've never been more certain of a hit in my life."

Right. Sure he was. But whatever. He got to stand on first base, half-laughing, half-wiping away the teardrops. And life was good.

Good for him. Good for La Russa, a man who can tell his grandchildren that, in his final two games as a manager, he won Game 7 of a World Series and an All-Star Game. And, especially, good for the league that was supposed to have gotten its entire starting lineup all wrong.

"You have to remember something," Jones said. "Nobody is ever going to be happy with all nine starters. That's what happens when the fans are given the responsibility to pick the teams. They vote however they want to vote.

"But you know what? That's OK," said Chipper Jones. "It worked out real good for us tonight."

And not so great for all of us idiots. But you know what? That's OK, too.

Jayson Stark | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com