CLEVELAND – For one night, the pitchers took back the power.
Hours after an awesome Home Run Derby got everyone buzzing even louder about monster shots and juiced balls, only a couple flew out of Progressive Field on Tuesday.
Instead, Justin Verlander blazed 97 mph heat, Shane Bieber and Aroldis Chapman each struck out the side and the American League slowed a loaded NL lineup 4-3 for its seventh straight win in the All-Star Game.
“I know it’s the year of the home run, but pitching dominated today,” Colorado slugger Nolan Arenado said.
Sure did – at least until play resumes Thursday.
Facing Christian Yelich, Cody Bellinger and a bunch of boppers, the AL staff combined to strike out 16.
With fans hoping to see a replay of Monday’s jaw-dropping aerial show when 312 homers cleared the walls, this became the Arm-Star Game up until the late innings.
Derby champ Pete Alonso of the Mets grounded a two-out, two-run single past Gleyber Torres in the eighth to close the NL’s gap. After a double steal put runners at second and third against Cleveland reliever Brad Hand, White Sox catcher James McCann made a tumbling catch on Mike Moustakas’ twisting foul pop to end the inning.
Chapman closed to give the AL its 19th win in 22 games, with a tie stuck in there. He got a little encouragement with two outs – Yankees teammate CC Sabathia, honored this week for his contributions on and off the field, strolled to the mound to talk to the flamethrower.
Chapman then struck out Yasmani Grandal for a save, giving the AL an overall 45-43-2 lead in the Midsummer Classic.
No need, either, for the experimental rule that was set to go effect: If the game went into extras, each team would’ve started the 10th with an automatic runner on second base.
Major League Baseball is on a record-shattering pace for homers this season, but no one came close to clearing the walls until Charlie Blackmon connected in the NL sixth to make it 2-1. Texas’ Joey Gallo countered with a solo drive in a two-run seventh.
Still, it was a far cry from last year’s All-Star Game that featured a record 10 home runs.
Cleveland favorite Michael Brantley had an early RBI double off losing pitcher Clayton Kershaw. Jorge Polanco drove in a run with an infield single for a 2-0 edge in the fifth, and another scored on a double-play grounder.
“I wanted to swing the bat early. I had some nervous jitters I wanted to get out,” Brantley said.
Winning pitcher Masahiro Tanaka, Lucas Giolito and Shane Greene did their parts to protect the lead with scoreless innings.
“I kind of expected it, to be honest,” Cubs slugger Kris Bryant said. “You only see them once, so they have the advantage.”
“There are a lot of hard throwers and great pitchers over there. Unless you’ve seen them before, it’s a difficult matchup,” he said.
Bieber earned the MVP award in front of a chanting home crowd, striking out Willson Contreras, Ketel Marte and Ronald Acuna Jr. in the fifth with a 1-0 lead.
“It was electric out there; the fans got in it and it was fun,” AL manager Alex Cora of the Red Sox said. “And I’m glad that he got the MVP. He plays at this level. He’s really good.”
Fittingly, the first batter of the game was the guy who leads the majors in home runs – Yelich, the NL MVP with 31 homers at the break, hit leadoff for the first time this year.
Yelich lined out, and Verlander quickly fanned Javier Baez and Freddie Freeman to finish his work.
Those lively balls that Verlander is complaining about? Didn’t bother him a bit.
Baez came up again in the third with a bright red bat, stepped out of the box and playfully waved to his pal Francisco Lindor in the AL dugout.
NL starter Hyun-Jin Ryu, Mets ace Jacob deGrom and Luis Castillo threw scoreless innings to keep the NL close in the early going.
Pittsburgh dynamo Josh Bell was part of the youngest starting lineup in All-Star history, with the NL crew averaging under 26 years old.
Overall, there were 36 first-timers, a number boosted by the absence of Bryce Harper, Manny Machado, Jose Altuve and several past perennials. And consider this: Of the 16 AL pitchers on the 2017 All-Star roster, zero made the roster this year.
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