MINNEAPOLIS — Adam Wainwright removed his glove and placed it on the pitching rubber, so his applause would not be muffled. The sainted, digitally preserved voice of Bob Sheppard announced the leadoff batter over the loudspeaker, barely audible of the standing ovation cascading from every nook of Target Field. The roars ended, and as the crowd sat back, they chanted: “Der-ek Je-ter! Der-ek Je-ter!”
The last All-Star Game of his career, a 5-3 victory for the American League over the National League, revolved around New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter. He pleaded with the rest of the all-stars to just play the game, but all of them and all 41,048 fans elevated him above it. He went 2 for 2, including a double off a pitch Wainwright may or may not have grooved. Jeter exited to a three-minute curtain call, waving his cap on the way off the field, hugging every man in the AL dugout and emerging once more.
They paled in poignancy compared to Jeter, but the other all-stars provided thrills. Mike Trout went 2 for 3 with a triple and a double and earned most valuable player honors. Miguel Cabrera launched a two-run homer. Reliever Tyler Clippard, the Washington Nationals’ lone all-star, retired the only two batters he faced and provided a dash of comic relief with a curveball sent into stratosphere.
Jeter did not come for the pomp. Jeter came to play a game that earns the winning league home-field advantage in the World Series. Dirt streaked down the right leg of his pinstriped pants, residue from the diving stop he made in the top of the first inning. Jeter tapped the catcher, Milwaukee’s first-time all-star Jonathan Lucroy, on the shin guards with his bat. “Are we good to go?” Jeter asked him amid the din. “What’s Wainwright got?”
Jeter dug into the right-handed batter’s box and went about the business of trying to beat the National League. Wainwright threw him a cut fastball, and Jeter pulled his hands close to his chest and angled the barrel of his bat to right field, the inside-out swing he made a legacy on. The ball zipped into the opposite-field corner for a double.
The authenticity of the moment came into question before the game ended. During an in-game scrum with reporters, Wainwright claimed he had purposely thrown a pitch not to retire Jeter, but to honor him.
“I was going to give him a couple pipe shots,” Wainwright said. “He deserved it. I didn’t know he was going hit a double or I might have changed my mind.”
If Wainwright had conspired to give Jeter an all-star moment, right next the Chan Ho Park batting-practice fastball Cal Ripken knocked over the fence, his teammates did not sense it.
“I think he was still trying to get him out,” Lucroy said. “The kind of competitor that guy is, he’s not going to go up there and give a guy a cookie, do him a favor. Jeter doesn’t need any help.”
Wainwright’s comments spread, and by the end of the game he joined the Fox broadcast to change his story. He had been misunderstood, he said, and he was just joking. Long after the game ended, Wainwright remained in the NL clubhouse, explaining himself to waves of reporters.
The first pitch Wainwright threw Jeter was a ball, a fastball he “spiked,” he said. With the count 1-0, “I’d be lying if I said I didn’t think he was probably going to take a pitch,” Wainwright said. He tried to throw a fastball on the outer half of the plate for strike one. And Jeter roped it for a double.
“I completely was trying to throw a strike,” Wainwright said. “I was fine with him hitting it in play. I didn’t think he was going to get a hit.”
Wainwright also said he planned to show off his super-slow curveball, but he never had the chance because he worked all night out of the stretch.
“It didn’t work out tonight,” Wainwright said with a chuckle and a heavy sigh. “On any level.”
The top of the American League’s lineup contained four consecutive likely Hall of Famers, since Trout fits that description as much as any 22-year-old possibly can, and they throttled Wainwright. Trout bashed a line drive off the right field fence, just out of the reach of Yasiel Puig’s leap. Trout zoomed around the bases for a triple, and Jeter scored the night’s first run.
Robinson Cano struck out, but Cabrera inflicted damage. Wainwright threw him a fastball off the plate inside, over the white chalk of the batter’s box. Cabrera’s bat was quick enough to hammer the ball over the left field fence. “He’s a Nintendo-type player,” Wainwright said.
Powered by Lucroy’s two doubles, the National League climbed back, tying the score at 3 in the fourth inning when Dodgers second baseman Dee Gordon raced home from first base. The lead lasted only one inning, erased when Trout ripped an RBI double off Cardinals reliever Pat Neshek.
Clippard entered with one out and two runners in scoring position, inheriting the jam Neshek created. Jose Altuve, the Houston Astros’ 5-foot-5 hitting machine, stood at the plate. With his second pitch, the ball slipped from his fingers and Clippard launched a curveball that crossed the plate perhaps 12 feet in the air and caromed off the backstop.
“Just changing eye levels,” Clippard said. “Keeping them guessing. It happens.”
On the next pitch, Altuve lashed a sacrifice fly to the warning track in left field, putting the AL ahead, 5-3. In the rush to warm up and with constant substitutions, Clippard did not know which hitter followed Altuve. He looked to the plate and saw the monstrous Cabrera lumbering to the plate.
“I honestly did not know,” Clippard said. “I was like, ‘Whoever steps in the box steps in the box.’ And then I was like, ‘Oh, sweet. Cabrera. Awesome.’ “
At the end of an eight-pitch at-bat, Clippard threw Cabrera his trademark change-up. Cabrera hit a sky-high, lazy fly to center field.
“In a game like this, in a spot like that, I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way,” Clippard said. “I’m mad at myself for not striking him out. But I got him out.”
In the latter innings, Jeter stood on the top step of the first base dugout and leaned against the railing. To his right, rubbing shoulders with him, stood Trout. They watched together, the legendary player on his way out of the game and the unstoppable force about to take it over, 2 right next to 27.
In 15 years or so, maybe Trout will stride to the plate at an opponent’s stadium and make the place stop and cheer. Maybe he will congratulate the catcher. He will definitely remember what happened Tuesday night in Minnesota.