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Behind-the-scenes at the All-Star Game
“We win this one,” he said, “and they might never win another.”
Well, the AL didn’t win the All-Star Game, losing, 3-1, in their first defeat since 1996.
Inside the AL dugout, where I was positioned for the Fox broadcast, the mood at the end was far less buoyant than it was earlier in the game, when the players bantered back and forth, clearly enjoying each other’s company.
I’ll start with my favorite vignettes from the dugout, then empty my notebook with some items that didn’t make the broadcast.
• First inning. Derek Jeter, 36, goes first to third on a single by Miguel Cabrera.
“Way to go, ‘Jete,’ way to hustle,” Torii Hunter shouts. “You’re a fast guy for an old man.”
• Second inning. David Ortiz points to Hunter and Vernon Wells sitting at the end of the dugout.
“Next time one of you guys jumps over the wall to catch my s---, I’m not going to first base. I’m going straight to center field with a bat in my hands,” Ortiz says, laughing.
• Third inning. Carl Crawford lines out weakly to third against Josh Johnson.
“He threw a changeup in the All-Star Game!” Crawford says to no one in particular. “What is the world coming to?”
• Fifth inning. Justin Verlander returns to the dugout smiling after escaping a first-and-third, one-out jam.
Told he provided some drama, Verlander jokes, “I like to put on a show.”
OK, now for the notes that failed to make “air.”
Albert Pujols. I spoke Tuesday with Pujols’ agent, Dan Lozano. He told me that he expects the Cardinals to pick up Pujols’ $16 million option for 2011 (duh!) and Pujols is willing to talk about a new contract in the offseason.
However, Lozano added that he is not 100 percent sure that such a deal would get done. The issue remains the same, and this is me talking, not the agent:
Are the Cardinals willing to make Pujols the highest-paid player in the game?
Ubaldo Jimenez and Josh Johnson. They both pitched two scoreless innings for the NL; Johnson’s were perfect, while Jimenez allowed two hits and a walk.
Jimenez is 15-1, but a strong case actually could have been made for Johnson to start the ASG. Johnson’s major-league best 1.70 ERA is a full half-run lower than Jimenez’s, and he has more strikeouts and fewer walks in a similar number of innings.
Johnson, though, never second-guessed manager Charlie Manuel.
“Charlie got it right,” he said. “I won 15 games all of last year. (For Jimenez) to have 15 at the All-Star break is unbelievable.”
John Buck. He was a backup for the Royals last season, and the team declined to offer him a contract last December. Yet, he was nearly an All-Star hero, hitting a double off left fielder Matt Holliday’s glove in the seventh and what should have been a bloop single in the ninth.
Buck learned of his All-Star selection from Blue Jays manager Cito Gaston, who called him into his office and said, “I’ve got to ask you about your knees.”
Buck was surprised; his knees weren’t bothering him. But then Gaston closed the door.
“You’re 29. I know your knees are fine,” he said to Buck — and then gave him the good news.
“It felt like I was shot with adrenaline,” Buck says. “My hands started shaking immediately.”
Andre Ethier and Dustin Pedroia. Former teammates at Arizona State, Pedroia made the All-Star team in 2008 and ’09 while Ethier had to wait until this season.
Pedroia, ever brash, used to taunt Ethier by asking, “Why haven’t you made an All-Star Game?” Ethier says he would reply, “I don’t have every person in New England voting for me every day even if I’m hitting .160.”
Actually, though, Ethier says that Pedroia builds up the confidence of even the people around him. The two work out together in the offseason, and Ethier loves it.
“Imagine him blowing your head up for three months about how good you are,” says Ethier, who went 1-for-2. “By the time the season starts, you feel like you’re the best player ever.”
Nick Swisher. Campaigned shamelessly to win the Final Vote, rallying his 1.2 million followers on Twitter, shooting a video while wearing a Tommy Bahama shirt and holding a surfboard to demonstrate his desire to head to California.
“Let’s be honest about it,” Swisher said. “My personality in a situation like that, it matches up.”
Konerko says his White Sox teammates were all over him for losing the vote to Swisher, who played for the Sox in 2008. The Sox players told Konerko that he should towel off Swisher during the home-run derby and serve as his caddy in Anaheim.
Swisher struck out as a pinch-hitter in his only at-bat.
Evan Longoria. What a homecoming.
Longoria, who had a double and walk and scored the AL’s only run, grew up 20 minutes away from Angels Stadium in Downey, Calif., but is hardly your classic Southern California baseball success story.
He was a skinny kid in high school who went undrafted and received no scholarship offers. He attended a non-descript junior college, then finally attracted the attention of Long Beach State, where he moved from shortstop — Troy Tulowitzki’s position then — to third base.
Two years later, the Rays made him the No. 3 overall pick in the 2006 draft.
Believe it or not, Braves catcher Brian McCann says Prado could win a home-run derby.
“When he takes batting practice, he starts out by spraying the ball all over the field,” McCann says. “Then for one or two rounds, he will let it fly. He hits it farther than anyone on the team.”
Miguel Cabrera. Triple Crown threat and, in his own way, maybe Comeback Player of the Year.
Cabrera committed himself to alcohol rehabilitation last offseason after an all-night drinking binge and physical altercation with his wife when the AL Central title was at stake on the final weekend of the season.
“He tackled the problem,” Tigers general manager David Dombrowski said. “He continues to tackle the problem. And in tackling the problem he is much more at ease with himself, a much happier person.”
Josh Hamilton. Rangers GM Jon Daniels says, “You cannot believe what that man eats.” Actually, what Hamilton drinks is even more astonishing — he says that he takes in 6,000 calories a day in protein shakes alone.
“He always has a Styrofoam cup in his hand with some kind of shake in it,” Rangers second baseman Ian Kinsler says.
Not to worry — Hart’s fellow players made him the leading vote-getter among NL outfielders, putting him in position to start instead of the injured Jason Heyward.
Still, Hart can’t catch a break: Now he is the subject of trade rumors. Maybe he can make the All-Star ballot with his next club.
Jose Bautista. The Pirates, of all teams, sent him to the minors in Aug. 2008.
The Blue Jays were looking for a super-utility man at the time, and figured the Pirates would decline to offer Bautista a contract rather than go to arbitration with him. What’s more, the Jays knew they could fit Bautista into their budget, and wanted to grab him before he hit the open market.
So, in a deal that barely caused a ripple, they acquired Bautista for a minor-league catcher named Robinzon Diaz, who is now at Triple A with the Tigers.
Arthur Rhodes. One of the few disappointments for the NL is that Rhodes did not get to pitch after making his first All-Star team at 40.
Rhodes planned to honor the memory of his son Jordan, who died at 5 in December 2008 of an undisclosed illness, by drawing the initials, J.R., on the side of the mound.
The Reds played in Philadelphia just before the All-Star break, and Rhodes says he sat right next to Charlie Manuel on a chartered jet to Anaheim.
“I want to get in the game. I just want to face one batter,” Rhodes told Manuel.
Alas, Manuel couldn’t make it happen.
He was too busy becoming the first winning NL manager since Bobby Cox in 1996.
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