Robinson Cano’s home run in the top of the 10th inning gave the American League a 2-1 win.
USA TODAY Sports
MIAMI — It was getting late Tuesday evening in the American League All-Star clubhouse, and Nelson Cruz was starting to panic.
He looked through his pants. Fumbled through his equipment bag. Looked up and down in his locker.
His cell phone, the one that snapped the most outrageous picture in All-Star Game history, was missing.
Suddenly, after the American League’s 2-1, 10-inning victory over the National League at Marlins Park, with Robinson Cano, Cruz’s Seattle Mariners’ teammate hitting the game-winner, we had drama.
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We had suspense.
We had our Tom Brady moment.
But before Major League Baseball’s security team was summoned, and private investigators called in, Cruz finally located the phone in another bag.
Ah, the phone that captured the only moment that had the All-Star Game buzzing, was secure.
It was the picture that will live forever, with Cruz walking up to the plate in the sixth inning, reaching into his pocket to pull out his cell phone, handing it over to NL catcher Yadier Molina, and taking a photo with home-plate umpire Joe West.
West, who has umpired 5,000 games, initially grumbled at the idea, but, hey, he at least smiled in the picture.
“That might be the best one I have on my phone so far,’’ Cruz said. “I told Joe that I’m going to send it to him. He said he was going to frame it.’’
Yes, just in case you wondered, with the winner of the All-Star Game no longer awarded home-field advantage in the World Series, the game got a little silly.
There was former New York Yankees great Alex Rodriguez on the field between innings interviewing the American League infielders for FOX-TV. There were TV interviews being conducted right in the dugout in the middle of the game. Washington Nationals All-Star Bryce Harper was even miked during the game, having conversations with FOX announcer Joe Buck about football.
“I felt like I was on Monday Night Football with Buck,’’ Harper said, “talking to him there. It’s a little crazy. A guy’s at the plate, Martinez is pitching and I’m talking to Buck through a microphone. It’s definitely a different situation, but pretty cool.’’
Cruz, who told his teammates earlier in the afternoon that he was going to take his phone to the plate for a photo with West, said few believed him. Cruz even wondered if he should go ahead with the zany idea, right up until he saw A-Rod on the field.
“Once I saw stuff during the game, and guys doing interviews on the bench,’’ Cruz said, “I said, ‘Ok, this wouldn’t be an issue, I guess. So I said, Why not? It’s Joe West. He’s a legend.’
“Come on, that’s the only chance you have to take a picture with Joe West.’’
Cruz says he actually was going to do the same thing in the 2013 All-Star Game. He put his phone in his back pocket, and was going to take a picture with the National League first baseman. The plans were thwarted when he popped up. He walked in his second at-bat, but forgot his phone on the bench.
This time, he was taking no chances.
But if the rules hadn’t changed, and this game was still being billed as, ‘This One Counts,’ would he still have pulled off the stunt?
“I would bet if the game had counted,’’ NL manager Joe Maddon of the Chicago Cubs said, “he would not have done that.’’
Indeed, with the game now returning to a meaningless exhibition, with only pride at stake, to go along with the $20,000 for each winning player, you can have a little fun.
“Now, it don’t mean anything,’’ Cano said. “I really honestly like that way. That way you’re able now to joke around, make the game more fun, like the way it used to be before. That’s what people and the fans love now these days, especially joking around with the social media.
“Honestly, it’s a blessing.’’
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Really, the only stress was the possibility of the game lasting too much longer, resurrecting memories of that 2002 tie game in Milwaukee, which led baseball and FOX to come up with the idea of tying the game’s outcome to the World Series. Certainly, it worked. The games became much more competitive. Players stayed the entire game without bolting back home.
“I think everybody was worrying about what was going to happen if we kept playing,’’ Cruz said. “I told the coaches, ‘Hey, let’s start an inning with a runner on second, just like the WBC.’’’
There was really no immediate threat of another tie. The American League and National League still had three pitchers apiece they hadn’t used. There really wouldn’t have been an issue unless the game went past 15 innings.
Ironically, it was 50 years ago to the day that the All-Star Game went 16 innings, with Hall of Famer Tony Perez ending it with a homer for the National League team.
Yet, even though the only real incentive was money on Tuesday, the players insisted it didn’t feel that much different than the past. Players hung around, whether it was veteran San Francisco Giants catcher Buster Posey who came out after five innings, or rookie sensation Aaron Judge of the New York Yankees.
“I think there was concern with the game not mattering in the World Series, it might take something away from it,’’ said AL reliever Andrew Miller, who became the first Cleveland Indians closer to save an All-Star Game in 28 years. “But I don’t know, based on the way we played, and based on the way guys were grinding out bats against me, I didn’t see a difference.
“They weren’t giving bats away trying to get back to the hotel, so I think the product was great. I think guys were having fun, but the competition was more than enough to motivate guys. The energy was great. Guys were pretty locked in and focused.
“I know it’s not like when Ted Williams hit a walk-off homer in the ninth inning of a game he started, but I think guys really cared. I didn’t get the sense of guys saying, ‘Hey, let’s get out of here.’
“Everyone was playing to win.’’
Detroit Tigers All-Star outfielder Justin Upton, playing in his fourth All-Star Game —and who made a running, diving catch in the 10th inning to rob Los Angeles Dodgers shortstop Corey Seager of a double — says the energy level felt no different than the others. Sure, it was the first time he’s seen in-game interviews with players, but there still was a matter of pride.
The American League has won five consecutive games, and 17 of the last 21, so no one wanted to be part of the league’s dominance ending anytime soon.
“I didn’t get any sense of hey, ‘Let’s just get out of here,’’’ Upton said. “It wasn’t like that at all. The guys were playing to win. They still had that competitiveness.
“I mean, it was different with mikes on the field, and Nelson taking that picture, but at the end of the day, guys were still just as competitive.’’
In many ways, it even resembled a regular-season game with lots of strikeouts (23), a few walks (six), and two homers.
It was a game dominated by pitchers, yep, just like the ol’ days, with the AL winning once again.
And even a priceless picture to prove it.
“I’m saving this picture forever,’’ Cruz says. “Me and Joe West. Right in the middle of the All-Star Game.
“Come on, you can’t get better than that.’’