Has the warm, breezy midsummer evening mood of this event addled many minds here? Is this an infatuation based on three remarkable months as the 49-34 Nats posted the NL’s best record despite having a dozen players on the disabled list ? Not likely. Baseball is too vain about its hard-eyed judgment for summer romances.
All three Nats in this game lived up to their billing. In the third inning, lefty Gio Gonzalez needed only 11 pitches, seven strikes, to fan the Rangers’ 2011 post-season hero Mike Napoli and retire a pair of stellar Yanks, Curtis Granderson and Derek Jeter. When you are tied for the MLB lead in wins, like Gonzalez, isn’t that expected?
Stephen Strasburg follow Gio to the mound for a scoreless fourth inning, though he gave up a single and walk while getting lefties Josh Hamilton and Prince Fielder to ground sharply into a double play and line out to left field, respectively.
His amazement came through in a Tweet sent during the game. “I had to face Cano, Hamilton, Bautista, and Fielder!! Pretty insane!”
Afterward, Strasburg was more reflective. “Everything here was a reflection of the times. Players asked what it’s like to play in Nats Park, even about little things like the curly ‘W.’ They want to know all about our team now,” he said. “When Ryan Zimmerman came [in the 100-loss days just a few years ago], I don’t imagine it was like that.”
In his way, 19-year-old Bryce Harper, the youngest everyday player ever to make the All-Star Game, showed most of the sides of himself. In his first at-bat, he drew a walk off Jered Weaver, at 10-1 with a 1.96 ERA perhaps the toughest right-hander in the AL through the season’s first half. Then he tagged and took second base aggressively on a long fly.
Then the teenage side of Harper appeared. He gambled that a chop would get over the head of the 6-foot-7 Weaver so he could reach third with one out. But Weaver leaped, snagged the ball and trapped him in a rundown. In the bottom of the inning, Harper gazed into a twilight sky for a routine fly, saw nothing and put his arms out beside him in the universal baseball sign of helplessness. The ball dropped for a “hit” a few feet behind him. Oh, he wore iridescent gold shoes, the flashiest of any star.
Four hours before the first pitch, Harper and Mike Trout, 20, of the Angels, held a press conference — just the two of them. On Monday, NL Manager Tony La Russa, whose eye for talent is one reason he’ll be in the Hall of Fame, said they would be the respective “faces of their leagues” for years to come. Some players, especially rookies, never get on the field in their first all-star game. If Harper and Trout hadn’t gotten to hit, Commissioner Bud Selig might have stormed the field. Over the last two days Washington has also emerged as the front-runner for the 2015 All-Star Game.