Stars captivate on mic as AL makes it loud and clear: 9 straight wins

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LOS ANGELES — It was a night of Dodger blue and continued National League blues. At long last, the Midsummer Classic returned to Dodger Stadium on Tuesday night. But any hope that the iconic venue’s first hosting duties since 1980 would return us to an era in which the Senior Circuit owned this event was extinguished by the continued excellence of the American League.

Under a beautiful Southern California sky, the AL erased an early deficit and held the NL hitless from the second through seventh innings of a 3-2 victory — its ninth straight in the All-Star Game presented MasterCard. Regardless, in front of a crowd of 52,518 and a national audience on FOX, the Dodgers’ “Blue Heaven on Earth” starred and shone in an entertaining showcase of the sport, with past and present legends saluted, big blasts sailing into the bleacher seats and mic’d up players aplenty.

That the game turned on a two-run homer off the bat of Chevrolet All-Star Game MVP Giancarlo Stanton — a native Los Angeleno who grew up stalking the big boppers of yore and catching batting-practice blasts in the bleachers — made for some Beach Boys-worthy harmony.

“All full circle,” said Stanton, whose jersey now heads to Cooperstown as the Hall of Fame’s memento from this Midsummer Classic. “Me playing in left, as well. You know, you always tried to get a ball thrown to me from whoever was playing left field when I was a kid. Just to be out there is so fun, so cool.”

This was expected to be a fun, cool event — an aligning of stars in a city known for them — from the day it was announced. That, though, was a long time ago. The Dodgers were supposed to have host duties in 2020, but the pandemic ripped those plans apart and delayed what was already a weighty wait for the All-Star return to Chavez Ravine. This season marks the 60th anniversary of the building, yet it had only hosted the Midsummer Classic one other time.

A bright side to the COVID complexity was that this game wound up being played in the year the sport and the country at large are celebrating the 75th anniversary of Jackie Robinson’s Dodger debut. That history and the Hollywood proximity paired perfectly when two-time Oscar winner Denzel Washington presented a stirring pregame tribute to Jackie. Then Mookie Betts, surrounded on the field by his fellow All-Stars from the NL and AL, led the crowd in a heartfelt “Happy Birthday!” to Jackie’s widow, Rachel, who turned 100 on Tuesday.

Mookie turned out to be far from the last All-Star amplified on this occasion.

FOX’s broadcast took the mic’ing up of players to another level. We didn’t just get Shohei Ohtani promising (and delivering) a first-pitch base hit, bench banter from Gerrit Cole, outfield observations from Julio Rodr?guez and a “Man on the Street”-style interview session from pending Hall of Famer David Ortiz. We also got a first-of-its-kind foray into the interactions between pitcher and catcher when left-hander Nestor Cortes Jr. and his Yankees batterymate Jose Trevino let us hear their pitch-by-pitch planning throughout a scoreless sixth. It was fascinating television.

“Yes, sir!” Trevino said when Cortes came through with the high heat that K’d Austin Riley for the inning’s first out. “You want the ball?”

Of course he did.

A few fans joined Cortes in acquiring souvenirs, as home runs accounted for all but one of the RBIs in this one. And an early home run for the NL side made it seem the Senior Circuit might have a shot at ending its unsightly — and, frankly, unexplainable — showing on this summer stage. Though the cast of characters changes each year, often drastically, the NL has not won this exhibition since 2012 and has just six wins since 1988. Heck, in the time Albert Pujols and Miguel Cabrera — the two aging sluggers invited here by Commissioner Rob Manfred in a tip of the cap to their Cooperstown-worthy careers — have been in the big leagues, the NL has won only three times.

Looking to end that trend, the NL, after a scoreless opening inning from hometown hero Clayton Kershaw, got on the board with a two-run bottom of the first against AL starter Shane McClanahan. Ronald Acu?a Jr. doubled down the left-field line, and Betts singled to bring him home. Though Betts was erased on a double play featuring a beautiful behind-the-back toss from AL second baseman Andr?s Gim?nez, Paul Goldschmidt’s 415-foot line drive solo shot to left-center gave the Senior Circuit a quick 2-0 edge.

“That was nice, that was fun,” Goldschmidt said. “You want to go out there and play well, and it was nice to be able to hit that homer. It was my first one in an All-Star Game, so it was pretty cool.”

Ah, but the AL had plenty of innings to answer. And answer it did in the fourth, against Tony Gonsolin. A Jos? Ram?rez single set up a typically titanic two-run blast off the big bat of Stanton. At 457 feet with a 111.7 mph exit velocity, it was the second-longest homer and hardest-struck hit in an All-Star Game since Statcast began tracking in 2015. It also tied it up at 2.

This was a rare night in which the majority of the viewing public would have been content to see the scoring stop there, so that a new All-Star rule calling for a bonus Home Run Derby in lieu of extra innings would be activated immediately. Alas, Byron Buxton immediately followed Stanton’s swat with a solo shot to left, and, just like that, the AL was in a familiar place — ahead.

The 3-2 edge brought about by Buxton proved to have staying power, and, with AL manager Dusty Baker bringing out a trail of relievers throwing gas and wipeout stuff, so, too, did the AL’s dominance on the All-Star stage.

“Dusty mentioned that [winning streak] to us before the game,” Stanton said. “So you know, we had to hold it down for him.”

Baker had also mentioned – only half-kidding – that he was still upset he didn’t get to join six of his Dodgers teammates in being selected to the 1980 All-Star Game that was held here. So like the building itself, Baker had waited a long time for this.

“Nothing makes up for playing,” Baker said with a smile. “But I’ll tell you, it was fun in the dugout, to see the guys together.”

NL loss aside, it all came together at Dodger Stadium. Let’s not wait 42 years for the next one.