MIAMI — For much of this week’s All-Star schedule in Miami, the focus was on young players, trendy players, and a running debate over which player will ultimately emerge and lay claim to the designation of “Face of the Game.” Commissioner Rob Manfred didn’t quite bestow New York Yankees outfielder Aaron Judge with that distinction when asked for his opinion Tuesday. But he had to admit, the kid has lots of potential.
So it was heartwarming for nostalgia buffs to see a different player with a Yankees pedigree provide the most enduring image from the 88th All-Star Game. Seattle Mariners second baseman Robinson Cano, a blast from the Bronx baseball past, drove an 81 mph Wade Davis breaking ball over the right-field fence in the 10th inning, then serenely circled the bases while blowing bubbles on his way to crossing home plate with the game-winner.
If there was a predominant theme to Tuesday’s game — other than home runs, strikeouts and fans leaving Marlins Park early — it might have been “the old guys strike back.”
Cano and St. Louis catcher Yadier Molina led the way among players on the 2017 All-Star rosters with eight career selections each. According to Elias, this is the first year in which the All-Star player with the most career appearances had fewer than 10 since 1952, when Stan Musial and Enos Slaughter led with nine apiece. The 28 first-time All-Stars in Miami marked the highest number of debuts in the event since 1988.
Cano, 34, received some pregame inspirational fuel when Major League Baseball honored eight Latin American Hall of Famers and chose eight active players to catch ceremonial first pitches. Cano was on the receiving end of one from Dominican great Juan Marichal.
“I can’t wait to get to social media and get that picture and put it in a frame in my home,” Cano said.
Once the game began, players from the respective squads had an opportunity to play in a more relaxed atmosphere now that MLB is no longer awarding home-field advantage in the World Series to the league that wins the All-Star Game. And another photograph quickly went viral.
Cano’s good buddy and Seattle teammate, Nelson Cruz, lightened the mood at Marlins Park when he stepped to the plate in the sixth inning and asked Molina to snap a picture of him with umpire Joe West. Molina took Cruz’s cellphone and happily obliged, and the post-“This Time It Counts” era had a moment of spontaneity to savor.
Cruz revealed that he had hoped to pose for a photo with the NL first baseman during a previous All-Star Game appearance at Citi Field in 2013. But he popped out in his first at-bat and inadvertently left his cellphone in the dugout before drawing a walk in his second plate appearance. So he never got the opportunity.
When Alex Rodriguez interviewed players on the field between innings during the Fox TV broadcast, Cruz considered it an all-clear signal to indulge his on-field fantasy. He had no reservations about stowing the phone in his left back pocket once he stepped in the box against Zack Greinke.
“I had it on silent, in case anyone called me,” Cruz said with a laugh. “I always slide on my right side, so I would have been OK. I have insurance, too.”
Given the lack of action, Cruz’s brainstorm came perilously close to being the highlight of the evening. The AL and NL squads combined to strike out 23 times, right in line with the whiff-happy theme that has come to define baseball of late. And two of the three runs on the evening came on solo homers — with Molina going deep against Ervin Santana. For those who haven’t been paying attention, home runs are also in vogue in MLB this season.
All roads finally led to Cano, who has enjoyed another productive season in Seattle (17 homers and a .275/.332/.481 slash line) despite a nagging quadriceps injury. But he made the AL squad only because New York’s Starlin Castro has hamstring issues and needed an injury replacement.
None of Cano’s long-time peers were surprised to see him embrace the spotlight, in his typically even-keeled way.
“He’s so gifted,” Miller said. “For somebody to do what he did in New York and have that attitude, it’s so genuine. When I first got to the bullpen in Boston, that was my matchup. I had to be ready for Cano, and that’s a pretty good test. Hopefully baseball fans know how good he is. I can’t imagine what the back of his baseball card looks like. It’s gotta be pretty good.”
Next year at this time, everyone might reflect on the 2017 Miami experience and remember Judge’s 47 bombs and barrage of 500-footers in the Home Run Derby as the highlight of the All-Star festivities. Judge, who keeps winning fans with his consistency and poise, certainly had a week to remember.
“It was just incredible all around,” he said. “The fans and the whole atmosphere. I enjoyed every second of it.”
Tuesday night, it was Robinson Cano’s turn to shine. And as pitchers who have tried and failed to get him out since 2005 can attest, he rarely misses an opportunity to seize the moment.