LOS ANGELES. The All-Star Game has visited 37 different stadiums, including several times since it was last held at Dodger Stadium. Ten of these sites have been destroyed, and three others no longer host Major League Baseball games. Chavez Gorge is still glowing.
That could be part of the problem, at least for the strikers on Tuesday night. Clayton Kershaw of the National League will take to the embankment in his home park to throw the first pitch to Shohei Otani of the American League shortly after 5:00 pm local time – prime time for East Coast viewers and California shadows.
“I’m not happy with the shadows; I’m not happy with Kershaw either,” Yankees’ Aaron Judge, who will follow Otani in batting order, said with a laugh Monday. “It’s tricky because the ball goes from light to dark, you’re trying to gain momentum – and you don’t know if it’s going to be a fastball in your face or if it’s going to be a slider that breaks the plate. Especially for a guy like him who has a nasty twist ball and a good combination of cutter, slider and heater, this is going to be a tough matchup. But we’re going to put on a show for the fans.”
The last time the show was here was in 1980 by Ken Griffey Sr. A home run from Tommy John to win the game’s MVP award. This was before Griffey became better known as the father of Hall of Famer Ken Jr. and before John’s left elbow surgery became popular in the game. However, a more significant moment came in the shadow of the first inning, when J. R. Richard threw the single greatest pitch in baseball history.
This distinction is, of course, entirely subjective. But consider the circumstances: at that point, no pitcher was taller than Richard, the 6-foot-8 right-hander of the Houston Astros. died last year. He led the majors in strikeouts in each of the previous two seasons, both times over 300 points, with a nasty fastball and a 94 mph run.
And here’s the thing: Richard stood tall in the sunlight, and the home plate was shrouded in shadows. He only threw fastballs until he was 3-1 behind a sweeper, Reggie Jackson of the Yankees, who never faced him.
The next pitch bent down and forward, shaking Don Drysdale in the ABC booth — “one of the fastest sliders known to man,” he said — and turning Jackson into a human pretzel, twisting him into mud as he lost his balance. Jackson waved another crawler in the dirt, a third blow.
Helpless – helpless,” Jackson recently said. “It didn’t matter if he threw a fastball at you, but with the slider, you just hoped you didn’t hurt yourself with some wild, weird swing. This is what I had. You couldn’t see the fastball due to sunlight and the slider was basically invulnerable. Just let me get out of here and move on.”
In fact, Richard was trying to be careful, working out only two possibilities and limiting the use of the slider. It soon became clear that he should never have pitched; he experienced a weariness that erupted into career-ending stroke in three weeks.
Teams are infinitely more careful now. Under league rules, pitchers who started on Sunday can’t play in the All-Star Game, and even those who are more rested, like Houston’s Otani and Justin Verlander this year, can refuse to pitch.
But there are many dominant pitchers. Major league hitters are hitting .242 this season, their lowest all-season total in 55 years. AL starter Shane McClanahan of the Tampa Bay Rays is holding hitters this year with a .176 batting average and a 1.71 ERA in the major leagues.
“These guys are already strong enough to bat,” said NL forward, Cardinals first baseman Paul Goldschmidt, who leads his league in hitting at .330. “As a striker, you’re just trying to simplify the situation when it’s harder to see, perhaps shortening your swing and trying to do less because your reaction time will be reduced and you might not pick up the ball so early.”
McClanahan and Kershaw, starting for baseball’s premier summer event, could hardly be more different. Kershaw, 34, is a nine-time All-Star, having won all three NL Cy Young Awards before McClanahan graduated from high school. McClanahan, 25, is so anonymous that AL manager Dusty Baker of Houston forgot that his team actually faced him in a 2020 playoff game.
“To be honest, I never saw him pitch,” Baker said. “We haven’t played him at all this year, but everyone I’ve talked to has told me he’s nasty and that’s why he’s my choice.”
Kershaw has, oddly enough, never been an All-Star, going through years active for Roy Halladay, Matt Kane, Matt Harvey, Adam Wainwright, Zack Greinke and Hyun-Jin Ryu. Kershaw has only made 12 starts this season, but two of them have been flawless over seven innings. He is 7-2 with a 2.13 ERA
“Thank you for letting me start this business,” Kershaw said at a press conference on Monday, pointing to NL manager Brian Snitker of Atlanta. “It’s difficult because it’s obvious that Sandy Alcantara, Tony Gonsolin, Max Fried – all these guys have better results than me and they have to start this game, and I understand that.
“But all that to say, I’m just so excited to be able to do this here at Dodger Stadium. I didn’t really think anything about it at the time; I thought, “Well, yes, it would be fun to do this or something,” but now that it’s finally here and I can start this game tomorrow night, it means a lot.”
Kershaw added that he was just hoping not to mess things up too much, but he knew better. The start of twilight for this generation’s top pitcher and rising star in the AL? What’s a poor striker to do?
“Hopefully it will be a cloudy day tomorrow,” Goldschmidt said.