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From Marquez to Manning to Vladdy mashing, moments define All-Star Game at Coors Field

American League wins eighth straight game in low-scoring affair
All Star Game Baseball
Posted at 9:19 PM, Jul 13, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-14 12:12:42-04

DENVER -- The All-Star Game represents a collection of moments more than an event.

A simple announcement made Tuesday night historic: "Leading off, the designated hitter, and the starting pitcher, Shohei Ohtani."

Never. That's the last time this has happened.

Ohtani, a star for the Los Angeles Angels, has inspired kids, captivated a country and bewildered the greatest players in the game with his duality.

"I can't even comprehend it," Dodgers fireballer Walker Buehler said. "It's hard enough to pitch."

As the face of the game and this game -- won for the eighth straight time by the American League 5-2 -- the right-hander posted a scoreless first inning, reaching 100 mph on his fastball, earning the victory, while grounding out in two at-bats.

The Rockies were hosts, leading to memorable snapshots -- Broncos Hall of Famer Peyton Manning threw out the the first pitch accompanied by Colorado legend Todd Helton. Nolan Arenado bathed in adoration -- "It was special," he said -- when introduced as a starter and before his first at-bat from Rockies fans not ready to let him loose from their embrace.

"It almost makes you wish he could have won a little more here,” Dodgers Max Muncy quipped about the reception for the Gold Glove third baseman.

And, yes, goosebumps rose to the surface when pitcher German Marquez entered in the fourth inning. He received thunderous applause and showed why he belonged on this stage with 13 pitches, eight strikes, on a mixture of 97 mph heat and knuckle curves.

Rockies manager Bud Black watched from the top of the dugout with a smile that only widened when Marquez tipped his cap to the crowd.

"It was emotional," said Marquez, who admittedly was more nervous catching Manning's first pitch.

Had the evening faded to black at 7:21 p.m., there would have been few complaints. At least not locally in what has been a much-needed jolt to the LoDo economy after a forgettable year due, in large part, to the pandemic.

Baseball, however, is complicated, rarely neatly packaged like a Netflix series or airplane food cart. While the game offered hope on a no filter required Instagram night at Coors Field, it remains in transition.

The pendulum needs to swing back. Hitters continue to put the 0000 in 0h N0! Too many zeroes for too many years. Batting averages have plummeted, strikeouts outnumber hits and scoring often remains in bed afraid to peek its head above the covers.

The sport's brass began cracking down on foreign substances after pitchers graduated from Vaseline and sunscreen and rosin bag blends to pine tar and spider tack. It started three weeks ago, umpires checking and pitchers left to hand over their caps and gloves with equal parts cooperation of exasperation. Offenses have begun to percolate, but Tuesday provided a reminder that hitting remains too hard when facing some of the game's best arms even with reduced spin rates.

The last time Coors Field welcomed the All-Stars in 1998, the teams combined for 21 runs and 31 hits in an American League win. Now, there are too few knocks and too many missed bats.

At least for the National League. The NL team owned four hits and two runs through six innings, a J.T. Realmuto home run the highlight. A night after Mets slugger Pete Alonso electrified the crowd with 74 home runs in the derby, the best hitters went acoustic against the likes of Ohtani, Lance Lynn, Kyle Gibson, Nathan Eovaldi, hard throwers with a devilish mix of pitches.

The Cubs' Kris Bryant tried to flip the script, smashing a 3-0 fastball into left field with bases loaded and two outs in the eighth. But Jared Walsh, the Angels regular first baseman, made a sliding catch to vanquish the threat.

So it was left to the American League to provide flashes into the sunset. Vladimir Guerrero Jr., who has lost weight and gained even greater status in the sport, smashed a 468-foot shot into left center. Fans voted for Baby Vlad more than any other player, and he rewarded their support, plating the second run with a ground out. At 22, he became the youngest MVP in the game's history.

"Dad, this is for you," Guerrero said.

Boston's Xander Bogaerts added on with an RBI single and former Florida star Mike Zunino homered, only the second by a Rays player in the Midsummer Classic.

The NL needed a passed ball to cut the deficit to three runs.

Even in the most offensive park in MLB history, offenses were challenged. Dodgers manager Dave Roberts told me Monday that it will take time for hitters to adjust, to even the playing field, to achieve better balance. It leaves some -- especially younger viewers -- yearning for more action.

Instead, Tuesday, we were left with moments. From the flyover to the stirring national anthem. From Nolan to Peyton to German to Mark Melancon to Vladdy swinging with evil intentions.

Baseball was back in big way. Just not back-back-back, if you know what I mean.