The MLB All-Star Game has no real stakes—not since 2016, anyway, when the winning league last earned home-field advantage for the World Series. Yet as a collection of several dozen of the majors’ best players, all competing at something close to 100 percent, the exhibition remains a compelling spectacle.
Tuesday night in Colorado, the American League squad won the first Midsummer Classic in two years, 5-2, to extend its winning streak to eight games. Again: The actual winners and losers don’t matter! But the game offered a handful of symbolic winners and losers, so let’s run through the notables from the night.
Winner: The Shohei Showcase
Shohei Ohtani could have generated more highlights during his All-Star experience. He didn’t make it out of the first round of the Home Run Derby on Monday, then grounded out in both of his at-bats on Tuesday.
Yet his performance in the All-Star festivities doesn’t remotely qualify as a disappointment, either. On the mound, the first player to be named an All-Star as both a pitcher and a position player retired Fernando Tatis Jr., Max Muncy, and Nolan Arenado in a row, in the process hitting 100 mph on the radar gun for the first time since his first start of the year. And he pitched that proficiently just a night after whacking 28 homers in the derby, going to two tiebreak rounds against Juan Soto in the most memorable matchup of the night.
The 2021 All-Star showcase was Ohtani’s event more than anyone’s, and even if he didn’t quite live up to extraordinary expectations, he still provided two-way exploits and captured the spotlight, earning raves from his fellow All-Star players most of all. To encapsulate the Ohtani experience, one needn’t look much beyond his unprecedented introduction before the game: “Leading off, the designated hitter and the starting pitcher, from the Los Angeles Angels, Shohei Ohtani.”
Winner: Vladimir Guerrero Jr.
If not for Ohtani, Vladito would be running away with the AL MVP award. The third-year Blue Jay is leading the majors in two of three Triple Crown categories and trails only Ohtani in home runs, and after a relatively lackluster start to his MLB career, he has emerged fully into stardom this season.
Instead of the AL MVP, perhaps, Guerrero has to settle for the All-Star MVP trophy. In his first at-bat, Guerrero nearly beheaded Max Scherzer with a 111 mph line drive. (After being thrown out at first, Guerrero hugged Scherzer on his way back to the dugout to show his remorse.) And in his second, 15 years after his father homered off Brad Penny in the All-Star Game, Junior matched Senior with a 110 mph, 468-foot blast of his own. Johnny Bench is the only player in All-Star Game history to homer at a younger age.
OH MY WORD VLAD JR.— FOX Sports: MLB (@MLBONFOX) July 14, 2021
He just destroyed that ball.
Tatis Jr's reaction He knew it was gone right away. pic.twitter.com/wLMff6XJZb
“He should have admired it a little bit more,” joked Tatis, who was on the mic with the Fox booth at the time. It’s OK, Vlad—there were plenty of fans to admire it for you.
Loser: Arizona Diamondbacks
During pregame introductions, the contingent of Rockies fans at Coors Field loudly booed NL manager Dave Roberts and all the Dodgers players, and produced a smattering of jeers for Giants and Padres players as well. But Eduardo Escobar, representative for the Diamondbacks, Colorado’s last division rival, received no such attention.
Poor Arizona: The last-place Diamondbacks, with 10 more losses than any other National League team, aren’t even notable enough to boo.
Winner: Freddy Peralta
Peralta isn’t the Brewers’ no. 1 starter. Nor is he the Brewers’ no. 2 starter. Yet in the seventh inning Tuesday, Peralta—one of four Milwaukee pitching representatives on the NL roster, along with Corbin Burnes, Brandon Woodruff, and closer Josh Hader—struck out the side. Peralta wasn’t quite Carl Hubbell mowing down five Hall of Famers in a row in 1934, but still: He set Adolis García, J.D. Martinez, and Matt Olson down, all in a row, all swinging, on just 12 total pitches.
The Brewers are hitting just .220/.312/.380 as a team, yet they still lead the NL Central by four games. Their pitchers are the reason, and against the best that the American League has to offer, Peralta demonstrated just how fearsome the team’s top trio of starters can be.
Winner: AL East Hitters
Seven American League teams enter the second half of the season with a positive run differential. Four play in the AL East. With few exceptions, that division has been the deepest in the league ever since the East-Central-West partition in 1994, and its best hitters came to play on Tuesday.
The seven hardest-hit balls in the game all came from AL East players, and the division’s hitters accounted for all of the league’s runs, with each team contributing. Toronto’s Guerrero and Tampa Bay’s Mike Zunino hit solo homers, New York’s Aaron Judge scored after a walk, Toronto’s Teoscar Hernández scored after a double, and Baltimore’s Cedric Mullins II scored after reaching on an error. (The play was initially ruled an infield single before being changed, in a harsh decision from the official scorer.) Meanwhile, Boston’s Xander Bogaerts and Toronto’s Marcus Semien drove in a run apiece despite not scoring themselves.
Loser: The National League
OK, sure, the results don’t matter, but the NL’s ongoing inferiority in this game—even without stakes, even in an exhibition format, even in a small sample—astonishes. In terms of star power, the National League has the preponderance of the majors’ most exciting young talents, as well as a majority of the best starting pitchers this season. Yet the NL lost again, as it has in every All-Star Game since 2012; the NL’s last victory came so long ago that the Astros were still an NL team at the time.
Going back further, the senior circuit has won just three times since 1996. It’s not as if the games aren’t close: Each of the past eight losses has come by three runs or fewer. But the NL can’t ever seem to break through against the AL’s pitchers. In the most important at-bats in Tuesday’s game, Kris Bryant struck out with two men in scoring position to end the sixth inning, then lined out on a 3-0 pitch with the bases loaded to end the eighth.
The NL All-Star squad is now approaching historically futile territory. The NL won a record 11 consecutive games from 1972 to 1982, while the AL won 12 games with an interrupting tie from 1997 to 2009. At least an NL team wins the World Series about half the time.