More microphones than usual, in more places than usual, were among the much-hyped special-occasion innovations used by Fox to cover the 2017 All-Star Game in Miami on Tuesday night.
Fortunately, someone at that network realized Max Scherzer probably would not be the best person on whom to test such increased access, so he was not wearing a microphone as he started for the National League team. Scherzer was one of four Nationals on the field when the game began, leading a Washington contingent that represented the National League East leaders well in the 88th All-Star Game.
If Scherzer had worn one, that microphone probably would have picked up what appeared to be a heated internal discussion, conducted in a series of mutters as he stomped around the back of the Marlins Park mound just before his first pitch Tuesday night. Scherzer’s routine intensity, dialed up on the bigger stage, was evident as he threw a scoreless inning to start the evening for the National League, one that included strikeouts of Aaron Judge and George Springer. Scherzer’s night ended after that, after 15 pitches uneventful outside of the audible grunts he threw along with nearly every fastball. They didn’t need an extra microphone to pick up those.
Bryce Harper showed his familiar affinity for the spotlight, beginning with his cleats — a brightly colored pair that paid tribute to late Marlins star Jose Fernandez. As is their custom, Miami fans booed him as he took the field. They probably had not seen the cleats.
“His memory was definitely felt tonight, with all the players in this clubhouse, that locker over there. It just gives you a sense of energy and passion that you want to take into this game,” Harper said. “A couple weeks ago, I told Under Armour that I wanted to put that on my cleats and give him a salute and really let it be known that I enjoyed watching him play and enjoyed the person he was. Definitely tough, but it’s for him.”
Not long after he took the field, Harper gave the National League its first hit of the game by fighting off a pitch from left-hander Chris Sale. He also made a sliding catch to rob Salvador Perez of a hit in the second, then walked against Dellin Betances in the third.
But perhaps Harper’s most memorable moment came in the top of the fourth inning, when Fox gave him an earpiece and a microphone and allowed broadcasters John Smoltz and Joe Buck to chat with him between innings. They discussed such important topics as the low neckline of Harper’s undershirt, the state of the Nationals, and Harper’s commentating skills, about which Harper said “I feel like I’m on NFL Network.” A few minutes later, he asked Buck what he thought of Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott, as if he were sitting in a sports bar, not standing in right field, potentially needing to react to a ball hit his way. None came.
“It was pretty cool. I felt like I was on Monday Night Football with Buck, talking to him a little bit right there. It was definitely a lot of fun,” Harper said. “Definitely a little crazy. All those guys are up at the plate, [Carlos] Martinez is pitching, and I’m talking to Buck through the microphone. So it’s definitely a different situation.”
Meanwhile, Daniel Murphy also went the opposite way for a hit in his first at-bat. He came to the plate with the bases loaded and two outs in the third and grounded out. Ryan Zimmerman hit into a ground ball double play in his first at-bat, then hit into a less-orthodox double play in his second when he hit a fly ball to the warning track and Nolan Arenado tried, unsuccessfully, to tag from first.
All three Nationals position-playing starters left the game after five innings, going a combined 2 for 5 with a walk and no runs batted in. They will start another game together on Friday in Cincinnati, when the second half begins.
“I looked up, Zim throws me the first ball, and it was pretty cool because we were able to fall into rhythm of what we do every single day,” Murphy said. “I looked out to Bryce, and we kind of have our own little rhythm out there.”
Before they left, a bloop hit from Twins slugger Miguel Sano dropped right among the three of them in short right field. That ball brought home the first run of the game, and put the NL in a 1-0 hole that Yadier Molina brought them out of with a home run in the sixth.
“If Zim comes full bore and tries to hit me, or lays out and gets me, that’s not a good sight. Or if I lay out and I get that ball and Zim comes full bore at me, or even Murph, definitely a tough sight,” Harper said. “We tried to get there as quick as possible. Just one of those plays where he puts it in the perfect spot, and it’s a knock.”
The fifth National at the game, Stephen Strasburg, did not pitch. Strasburg was in the bullpen as the game headed to extra innings, but he was not needed, as the game ended after 10 innings. Strasburg will now be fully rested for the second-half opener. The Nationals could decide to start Strasburg in that game, but they have not announced their rotation for after the break.
Regardless of who pitches when, the Nationals can start the second half knowing their five all-stars escaped the game unscathed, having represented them well — and, at times, rather loudly — on the national stage.
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