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All-Star Game 2017 shows why the more baseball changes, the more it stays the same

By Paul Hoynes • Jul 12, 2017 at 4:30 PM

MIAMI — Tony Clark played 15 years in the big leagues. The head of the players union says the game he played is not the same as the one he's watching now.

So many home-run hitters, so many power pitchers, so many strikeouts.

"Hey, people like home runs and they like strikeouts," said Clark.

MLB batters hit a record number of homers in June. Pitchers are on pace to set a strikeout record for the ninth straight season.

The balls might be juiced. The bats might be harder. The players have never been tested more for performance boosting drugs.

Perhaps some things, like the balk rule, cannot be explained. Or maybe it has to do with global warming or simply the cyclical nature of things.

But at its root baseball is still baseball. "It's an easy game," former Indians manager John McNamara once said. "You go to first base and turn left. You get to second base and turn left. You get to third base and turn left. Then you step on home plate and score a point."

That's how it worked Tuesday night in the 88th All-Star Game as Robinson Cano gave the American League a 2-1 victory in the 10th inning with a leadoff homer and the Indians' Andrew Miller earned the save.

It was the first All-Star Game played in Florida and first since 2002 that was unshackled from the responsibility of determining home-field advantage for the World Series. But for those expecting a food fight to break out, since there was nothing to play for, it was only baseball.

Good, old-fashioned, white-knuckle baseball.

Some of the best moments came before the game.

Marlins Park is in the middle of Miami's Little Havana. In a celebration of Latin America's influence on the game, Hall of Famers from baseball hot spots such Puerto Rico, Cuba and the Dominican Republic threw out first pitches.

How about Robbie Alomar throwing to the Tribe's Francisco Lindor with Alomar's brother, Sandy, applauding from the dugout as one of the AL coaches? Lindor grew up in Puerto Rico idolizing Alomar. After he caught his pitch, he gave Alomar a hug.

After the first-pitch ceremony, Puerto Rico's Hall of Fame catcher Ivan Rodriguez -- he'll be inducted at the end of the month -- hugged future Puerto Rican Hall of Fame catcher Yadier Molina. When Molina homered in the sixth inning to pull the National League into a 1-1 tie, it seemed preordained.

Pedro Martinez, the man who still haunts the Indians' dreams, and Juan Marichal represented the Dominican Republic. Rod Carew, with a new heart, was there from Panama. Tony Perez from Cuba, Puerto Rico's Orlando Cepeda and the sons of Roberto Clemente threw out first pitches as well.

It didn't take long for the crowd to be introduced to the unstoppable Jose Ramirez. The Indians third baseman, hitting second in Brad Mills' lineup, lined the first All-Star pitch he saw into right field for a single with one out in the first.

Nothing came of it, but in his next at-bat, he singled again to same spot in right field. Then he stole second base.

Ramirez is just the second player in Indians history to get two hits and steal a base in an All-Star Game. Kenny Lofton did it in 1996.

It was a good night for the Tribe. Ramirez and Michael Brantley combined for three hits. And Miller finished it by striking out Dodger rookie Cody Bellinger, the same rookie who stunned him with a leadoff homer in the eighth inning on June 13 to break a 2-2 tie.

Critics of baseball have complained for years that the sport doesn't do enough to promote its players. Commissioner Rob Manfred talked about that before the game. He said baseball is a team sport and that some players don't want to be singled out.

It is why he likes the Home Run Derby so much. The player is on center stage by himself. Monday night, who could miss what rookie Aaron Judge did? Not only did he win the derby, but he hit a 513-foot homer, while banging a fly ball off the roof of Marlins Park.

The 6-7, 282-pound Judge leads all of baseball with 30 home runs. Mills, filling in for Terry Francona, knew Tuesday night's game was a show, so he batted Judge third so the fans would not only get to see him hit in the first inning, but that he'd get at least two more at-bats.

Judge, however, went 0-for-3 before being replaced by Justin Upton. Facing Max Scherzer and Carlos Martinez is a little different than hitting batting-practice fastballs, but those 30 first-half homers all count. And if a rookie can be the emerging face of baseball, well, why not have one who stands 6-7?

If Judge isn't too your liking, there were 33 All-Stars in the game who were 27 or younger.

"We have so many talented young players," said Clark. "We really do."

So take your pick. Ramirez wouldn't be a bad place to start.

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