WASHINGTON – He made the team on the wings of a massive get-out-the-vote effort by the Seattle Mariners, and the largesse of their fan base that corrected a grievous snub.
And then, on Tuesday night, Jean Segura repaid the debt, three-fold, with a whip of his bat and an outpouring of pure, unfiltered joy that lifted him around the bases on a cloud of his own making.
But just when you thought you could call him Jean, Jean, the All-Star MVP Machine for breaking an eighth-inning tie with that three-run blast, a dose of ugly reality came crashing down on the American League.
Oh, the A.L. eventually won, because that’s what it does – six All-Star Games in a row, 18 of the last 21, 24 of the last 30, this time by an 8-6 margin in 10 innings. But Segura had the MVP snatched from him in a dubious judgment that seemed to leave him disenchanted.
And, wouldn’t you know it, it was Segura’s Mariners’ teammate, Edwin Diaz, bearing the brunt of the A.L.’s temporary breakdown. Entering the game with a 5-3 lead to protect in the ninth, as he has done so brilliantly all year for Seattle, Diaz looked overamped from the start, which he copped to after the game.
“I was a little excited, more than in the season,” he said. “I tried to stay calm and tried to make pitches. That inning was very hard today.”
Who knows, maybe the two-run lead was too expansive after being asked all year to work with the M’s just one run ahead.
Diaz struck out Trevor Story on a 3-2 pitch but walked J.T. Realmuto before giving up a two-run homer to Scooter Gennett that tied it at 5-all. In contrast to Segura’s jubilation moments earlier, Diaz walked off the mound dejected, head down, after getting the next two outs.
“I don’t feel disappointed,” Diaz insisted afterward. “This is the All-Star Game, so we face the best hitters from the other league. I tried to make my pitch, and left that fastball in the middle, and he hit it pretty good. But I feel good, I feel happy I’m here, playing with those guys.”
In the 10th, Astros teammates Alex Bregman and George Springer hit back-to-back homers off the Dodgers’ Ross Stripling, and the A.L. pushed across another run – the only one of the 14 all night that didn’t score via one of the record 10 home runs – for an 8-5 lead.
For that feat, Bregman earned the MVP award, even though his run didn’t prove to be the winner after Joey Votto homered in the bottom of the inning. As he hurriedly dressed to catch a plane after the game, Segura hardly resembled the guy who had been bliss personified after his homer. He was stone-faced and curt in his responses as he tried to zip up an overstuffed duffel bag and head out, cutting interviews short.
“When I hit it, I knew it was going to go out. I’m really excited,” he said, his expression and tone belying those words. “Even though I didn’t win the MVP, I’m really excited.”
If Segura, who needed the Final Man vote to make the All-Star team, felt he had been snubbed again, it was a valid feeling. In addition to driving in three runs with one swing – a homer that he had called earlier in the day, no less – he also had a single and scored in the 10th. Bregman’s solo homer was his only hit in three at-bats.
Last year, Robinson Cano was the All-Star MVP on the strength of a key homer. But life comes at you fast; Cano is now in the midst of an 80-game suspension. It nearly fell on one of his closest friends on the team, Segura, to carry that mantle. Surely, Segura would have been the unanimous choice – and snared the new car that goes to the recipient – had the A.L. won in regulation.
“I was feeling so good for Jean,” Diaz said. “He came up there to do what he did, hit a home run.”
Segura’s three-run homer in the eighth that broke a 2-2 tie came with a couple of stories within the story. He had been on-deck to pinch-hit (for Mariners teammate Nelson Cruz) in the bottom of the seventh with the A.L. up 2-1, but another Mariner, Mitch Haniger, struck out on a dubious called third strike to end the inning with two stranded.
When the top of the eighth rolled around, the National League had tied the game on a Story homer, and A.L. manager A.J. Hinch tabbed Shin-Soo Choo instead of Segura to hit for Cruz.
As it turned out, all that did was ratchet up his heroism. Choo singled, as did Springer with one out. Up stepped Segura to face Milwaukee’s Josh Hader, a lefty with an unfair strikeout ratio. With the count full, it appeared Hader would win a tough battle when Segura launched a foul that Votto had in his glove as he reached the dugout guardrail – and then had it pop out for an error.
“It was a good opportunity to get another pitch and continue to do my at-bat,” Segura said in his only other comment in English in the postgame clubhouse.
Given the reprieve, Segura seized upon Hader’s next pitch and sent it on an arc that was instantaneously recognizable as a ball headed deep into the bleachers. Segura certainly knew it and raced exultantly around the bases.
“I was really pumped up for him,” Cruz said of his Mariners teammate. “Definitely, I was very excited. He was telling me he was going to get one at-bat and hit a homer, and he did.”
That prediction, which Haniger also vouched for, came before batting practice.
“He said he was going to hit it as hard as he could, which is exactly what happened,” Cruz said.
Haniger took a couple of mighty swings when he came to the plate in the seventh, but struck out on a pitch that appeared to be outside. In his next at-bat, he grounded to short, but Haniger did have the distinction of catching the last out of the game on a pop fly by Lorenzo Cain. Rather than keep that potential treasure, Haniger flipped it to second baseman Jed Lowrie of the A’s.
“Hopefully, Jed saved it and he’s got it,” Haniger said.
Few players savored their All-Star experience more than first-timer Haniger, who used the word “awesome” repeatedly to describe his two days.
“Just being able to talk to these guys and get to know them and see what makes them great has been pretty cool,” he said.
This was an All-Star Game of its time, replete with homers (10 of them, including naturally, one by Mike Trout) and strikeouts (25 of them), punctuated by selfies (some of them on the field in midgame).
“Standard operation nowadays, right?” Hinch said. “We’re going to homer and punch out as an industry. … There’s a great love affair with both results. I mean, to kind of empty your tank and hit homers tonight at this event is probably the best thing imaginable.”
Just ask Jean Segura – especially if you could have posed the question in the eighth inning.
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