For the first time since 1980, MLB’s greatest stars met in Los Angeles for the Midsummer Classic. On a Tuesday night at Dodger Stadium, the palms swayed, the city skyline glimmered, and the micheladas flowed. The American League won 3-2 behind dominant pitching and a pair of fourth-inning home runs. The game itself didn’t feature a ton of action, but the festive energy and the sheer baseball talent and personality on display made it worth tuning in. Let’s run through some of the winners and losers from the night.
Loser: The National League
Loser seems like an understatement. The NL had such a promising start on Tuesday night. Clayton Kershaw threw a scoreless top of the first in front of his home crowd; in the bottom half, Mookie Betts singled in a run and Paul Goldschmidt hit a solo homer to put the NL up 2-0. After collecting four hits off AL starter Shane McClanahan in the first inning, the NL managed just one hit for the rest of the game, an eighth-inning single by Austin Riley.
That’s all fine and good. Since the All-Star Game was divorced from home-field advantage in the World Series, there are no real stakes to the exhibition. But the National League lost its ninth consecutive Midsummer Classic—and its 21st out of the past 25. I don’t know how to account for this level of futility! It’s not like the NL faces a significant talent disadvantage, and most of the recent games have been close. (The AL has outscored the NL by just 10 total runs in their past six matchups.)
The All-Star Game historically has had alternating stretches of dominance. The AL now leads the overall series 47-43. Playing at home with some of the game’s brightest stars, the NL had a good chance to reverse its fortune. In at least one way, it did: The senior circuit led for three innings on Tuesday, which is somehow two innings more than it’s led in the past eight years. Progress!
Winner: Giancarlo Stanton
Stanton took home MVP honors for his game-tying, two-run homer in the fourth. His blast served as a reminder after Monday night’s Home Run Derby that he can hit baseballs farther than just about anyone: His no-doubter traveled 457 feet, deep into the left-field bleachers where Stanton sat for Dodgers games while growing up in L.A. In addition to showing out for his hometown fans, Stanton provided entertainment on the broadcast, carrying fellow Yankees outfielder Aaron Judge in broadcast duties when the latter’s mic cut out during their joint interview session. An all-around performance deserving of the MVP.
Loser: The “Gold Sheen of Hollywood” Uniforms
I understand why most leagues design new, unique jerseys for their All-Star games. (OK, yes, to sell them; but there’s a practical reason too.) If, say, each NBA All-Star wore his team’s jersey during the exhibition, it would be difficult for everyone involved to discern who was on which team. But baseball is different. It’s a slower game and only one team takes the field at a time, so it’s possible for players to wear their own jerseys and represent their teams without causing mass confusion. In fact, that’s exactly what happened from 1934 to 2019, and that smattering of jersey colors and logos was the defining—and iconic—aesthetic of the Midsummer Classic.
Last year, MLB and Nike did away with that tradition in favor of two nearly unintelligible (and boring) jerseys. This year’s versions are somewhat easier on the eyes and thankfully restore the individual team logo to the center of the chest. But in trying to balance team uniforms with a sellable new All-Star Game edition, MLB ended up splitting the baby. We don’t get the rainbow on the field (my preference), and we don’t get a unique, bold, memorable All-Star jersey either. Instead, we get gold, inspired by the “fame and fortune of the City of Angels” and in honor of the Oscars (maybe not the best ceremony to base your All-Star festivities around). These jerseys are an improvement from last year, but they still leave much to be desired.
Winner: Alek Manoah, Pitcher, and Alek Manoah, Interviewee
The midgame interviews with players continue to be delightful, and young Blue Jays hurler Alek Manoah delivered my favorite. I was skeptical when announcers Joe Davis and John Smoltz welcomed Manoah onto the broadcast while he was on the mound. Relative to patrolling the outfield or even taking an at-bat, pitching requires so much exertion, and I was worried about the grunt-to-conversation ratio, not to mention the potential for awkwardness if the 24-year-old first-time All-Star had a bad inning.
Instead, Manoah’s segment captured so much of what it is to be a pitcher. The breathless competitive energy. The immediate reactions to each pitch (“Right down the middle but I’ll take it!”). The catcher-pitcher dialogue. The juxtaposition of Manoah’s intense focus and stream-of-consciousness (“Am I gonna have to slidestep here?”). The light trash talk.
Manoah punched out the first two batters and got two strikes on Jeff McNeil. With a chance to strike out the side, Manoah let Smoltz call the pitch from the booth—a backfoot slider to the lefty. Manoah executed the pitch, perhaps a bit too literally, as the pitch hit McNeil in the foot. The exchange showcased what’s great about these interviews: rare access, baseball insight, and high comedy. Manoah was a natural on the mic, and his pitching was pretty good, too—Manoah struck out the next batter and headed back to the dugout with many new fans and, in his own words, “three punchies.”
Winner: Clayton Kershaw
Tuesday night marked Kershaw’s ninth All-Star selection, but his first start. Before the game, Ken Rosenthal asked Kershaw about his approach to the first inning. He answered, with a smile, “I’m gonna throw as hard as I can. It’ll be 91 [mph]. We’ll see what happens.” (The man knows himself.)
What happened was: Kershaw allowed a leadoff single to Shohei Ohtani, then picked him off at first base. He struck out Judge (MLB’s home run leader), walked Rafael Devers, and got Vladimir Guerrero Jr. to ground out to end the inning. It wasn’t the lefty’s cleanest inning, but he put up yet another zero in front of the home crowd and smiled the whole way through. (Side note: I have an even greater appreciation for the unorthodox hitch in Kershaw’s delivery after seeing it from the umpire camera angle; there’s a reason he has nearly 3,000 career strikeouts.)
Kershaw, now 34, is by all measures one of the greatest pitchers of his generation. He’s won three Cy Youngs and one MVP, and in 2020 he added an elusive World Series trophy to his résumé. He didn’t need an All-Star Game start to burnish his legacy, but it was a feather in the cap for the Dodgers legend. Elsewhere in the Dodgers’ rotation, however …
Loser: Tony Gonsolin
It’s hard to call this year’s breakout star a “loser.” Gonsolin is 11-0 with a 2.02 ERA for the best team in the National League. He pitched in front of his home fans in the All-Star Game! In pretty much every way, Gonsolin is winning big. But somebody has to lose, and Tuesday night it was him. The Dodgers starter entered the game in the top of the fourth and allowed four hits and three runs, including back-to-back home runs to Stanton and Byron Buxton that put the AL on top. If Gonsolin can continue his sterling first half, Tuesday night’s performance will be little more than a footnote to an incredible year. On this night, though, Gonsolin took the loss—for literally the first time all season.
Loser: The Home Run Derby Tiebreaker
A couple of years ago, MLB was set to experiment with the automatic-runner-on-second-in-extra-innings rule had the All-Star Game gone to extra innings. It ended up not being necessary that year, but now, it’s the law of the land.
This year, MLB introduced a new method of deciding the Midsummer Classic if nine innings proved insufficient: a home run derby. The contest would feature three players from each team who would get three swings each. The side with more dingers by the end would win the game.
We were so close. Tantalizingly close. The Guardians’ Emmanuel Clase entered the ninth inning with a one-run lead. He faced Garrett Cooper, NL home run leader Kyle Schwarber, and Jake Cronenworth. Clase struck them all out, on 10 pitches, dashing the hopes of everyone who didn’t get their fill of home runs on Monday. It seems unlikely that the home run derby tiebreaker will be implemented in the MLB regular season, but hopefully we’ll see it in the All-Star Game soon. That’d be a hell of a way for the NL to finally pull out a win.