CLEVELAND — Juiced ball? What juiced ball?
The topic of baseballs leaving the yard at a record pace this season dominated the two days here before the 90th All-Star Game, and in this hitter’s ballpark, there was no telling how many balls might fly out.
Naturally, with lineups and benches packed to the gills with power, the American League and National League combined for all of two homers in a 4-3 victory by the AL on Tuesday night in front of 36,747 at Progressive Field.
All together now, and with “Get well soon” affection for the inventor of the phrase: That’s baseball, Suzyn.
“It was difficult,” said Yankees second baseman Gleyber Torres, who went 1-for-2. “All the pitchers threw really, really well, really hard. A lot of movement. All-Star pitchers, they’re tough to face.”
Charlie Blackmon of the Rockies went deep for the NL, and Joey Gallo of the Rangers homered for the AL, the former’s blast in the sixth cutting the NL’s deficit to 2-1.
The teams totaled 13 hits, only five by the NL. There were 23 strikeouts, and the NL struck out 16 times. Cleveland’s Shane Bieber, who struck out the side in the fifth inning, was named the MVP.
Aroldis Chapman struck out the side in the ninth to earn the save. He received a mound visit from CC Sabathia with two outs, sent out by manager Alex Cora so the crowd in Cleveland, where Sabathia spent the first eight seasons of his career, could give him one more ovation.
“Alex was like, ‘When Chappy gets out there, do you want to make a mound visit?”’ said Sabathia, who received a loud roar when he threw the ceremonial first pitch to Sandy Alomar Jr., the longtime Indians catcher now a coach with the team. “I was like, yeah, sure, why not? It was a pretty cool moment.”
Before the game, Sabathia spoke to the AL squad, which won its seventh straight and is 19-3-1 in the last 23 in the series. Overall, the AL is 45-43-2, with the run total a remarkable 373-370 in the AL’s favor.
“When he spoke to us, I have to say that’s the first time I’ve seen him nervous,” Chapman said through his translator. “He’s never nervous. It was a great moment. Something I’ll always cherish.”
Masahiro Tanaka, making his first All-Star Game appearance, earned the win with a scoreless second, becoming the first Japanese-born pitcher to earn the win in a Midsummer Classic.
The pitchers’ paradise came on the heels of last year’s game in Washington when the teams combined to hit 10 homers in the AL’s 8-6 victory in 10 innings.
But just because there were few long balls doesn’t mean the contest was devoid of drama.
Down 4-1 in the eighth against Indians lefthander Brad Hand, the NL put two on with none out, and the Mets’ Jeff McNeil came up. McNeil, hitting .349 in the first half with a .409 OBP, flied to left.
But with two outs, Pete Alonso, the Home Run Derby champion the night before, came up with the bases loaded. Alonso stung a one-hop rocket that Torres, inserted earlier at second for teammate DJ LeMahieu, couldn’t stop on the overshift back on the grass on the shortstop side of the bag. The two-run single made it 4-3.
“Any moment that comes up and arises, I want to make the most of every situation," Alonso said.
Hand got out of it, then Chapman took care of business in the ninth.
New York was well represented with five Yankees — Gary Sanchez, LeMahieu, Tanaka, Torres and Chapman — and three Mets — Alonso, Jacob deGrom and McNeil.
Sanchez went 1-for-2, doubling and scoring in the fifth to make it 2-0. LeMahieu, the Yankees’ MVP the first half, started at second and went 0-for-2. Torres hit for LeMahieu in the fifth.
DeGrom was terrific, striking out one in a seven-pitch third.
The AL took the lead in the second inning against Dodgers lefthander Clayton Kershaw. Alex Bregman reached on an infield hit to third. Arenado, a Gold Glover, knocked the smash down but couldn’t corral it. Sanchez, with 24 homers but in a 6-for-51 slide to end the first half, flied to center. But Michael Brantley, a longtime Indian who signed a free-agent deal with the Astros and received a loud ovation before the game, lined an RBI double into the gap in left-center to make it 1-0.
“It was a great game all around,” Chapman said. “It was a great show for the fans. Masa got the win and I got the save, so a great game for us.”