LOS ANGELES – The Hall of Fame-bound pitcher with the famously airtight pregame routine – down to the second to time his pre-start walks from the bullpen – knew the game result mattered little, that real business would resume in a couple days, that truth be told, he probably shouldn’t be starting this 92nd All-Star Game, anyway.
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And so Clayton Kershaw reached the back of the Dodger Stadium mound, broke his usual focus and gazed upon every level of the fabled stadium, 15 years of appreciation washing over him as fans roared and his walkout music pumped through the yard early Tuesday evening.
With that, a decidedly made-for-TV All-Star Game commenced, and Kershaw’s ethos for the evening – Why the heck not? – Prevailed throughout the game, won by the American League, 3-2.
It was the ninth consecutive victory for the AL, forged by eight straight shutout innings from its pitching staff, which held the National League hitless for seven innings after it scratched for two runs in the first inning off Shane McClanahan.
That would have put Kershaw in line for the win, but back-to-back fourth-inning homers from Giancarlo Stanton, who was named the MVP, and Byron Buxton ensured the AL’s streak would live on. No matter: Tuesday’s game made sure luminaries such as Albert Pujols – who spent five memorable months as a Dodger last year were feted – and a national TV audience entertained.
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And for the host squad, that Kershaw, a 192-game winner and three-time Cy Young Award honoree, got his flowers. For his part, Kershaw paused to sniff them.
“I tried to take a minute at the beginning to take it all in and look around, which I never do,” Kershaw said. “And I think the moment itself, being here at Dodger Stadium, a place where I’ve been now for 15 years, and to get to do something like this with the best in the world, is really fun and also really personal for me and my family.”.
There was also the matter of performing, and both Kershaw’s presence and the parameters of his outing were the stuff of nationally-televised fantasy.
Kershaw admitted again Tuesday that Miami Marlins ace Sandy Alcantara earned the All-Star start based on first-half merit. Yet with few beyond hardcore baseball denizens and Little Havana residents are aware of Alcantara, so Kershaw it was.
And both his intentions and those of leadoff batter Shohei Ohtani were telegraphed to the world.
Kershaw made no bones about his first pitch in a television interview: He’d throw it as hard as he can, 91 mph, see what happens.
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Ohtani, the great two-way player whose multiple skills have enthralled the sport, had a simpler message in a separate interview across the diamond: First pitch, first swing.
The SoCal superstars did not disappoint: Kershaw hit 91 on the gun, Ohtani lashed a single to center and it was, quite literally, game on.
“You can’t throw the first pitch of an All-Star Game as a breaking ball,” Kershaw later semi-joked.
Kershaw stunned the masses by picking Ohtani off first, the game veering off script just pitches in.
“I just kind of lobbed it over there,” Kershaw noted.
It was one of just a few moments, it seemed, not caught on a live mic.
AL pitchers Alek Manoah and Nestor Cortes were both mic’d up during pitching appearances, as was reliever Liam Hendriks for the second consecutive All-Star Game. Yankee stars Stanton and Aaron Judge chatted with each other in the outfield. Rookie Julio Rodriguez, such a hit in Monday’s Home Run Derby, shared his thoughts.
The chatter certainly made up for the quieted bats.
Dodgers outfielder Mookie Betts singled home a run and Cardinals first baseman Paul Goldschmidt slugged a homer off McClanahan. Then, nothing from the NL as a parade of Manoah, Framber Valdez, Paul Blackburn, Martin Perez, Cortes and Jorge Lopez yielded no hits. Austin Riley broke the streak with an eighth-inning single off Gregory Soto.
The NL was just as good, beyond Dodger Tony Gonsolin, who yielded the fourth-inning blasts to Stanton and Buxton. (Fun fact: Dodger right-hander Ross Stripling was the last pitcher to yield back-to-back blasts, in the 10th inning in 2018. Alcantara was dominant, striking out two in his inning, backing up Kershaw’s assertion that “Sandy had an incredible first half and he deserves it.”.
By the time the last pink streaks of sunset over the San Gabriel Mountains disappeared, the scoreboard framing it summed up a wham-bang evening: Sixteen zeroes, and one inning of offense for each league.
Emmanuel Clasé shut the door on the night, striking out the side on 10 pitches in the ninth inning.
It capped off a pitchers’ night that was really a pitcher’s night.
“This place means a lot to me,” says Kershaw. “I’ve had a lot of great times here. I’ve had some rough times here, too. But overall, this place is just super special for me, and to get to do this here more than anything is why it was so special to me.”.