The Mariners’ second baseman takes home MVP honors after his homer in the top of the 10th gives AL a 2-1 lead.
MIAMI — Not playing wasn’t an option for Robinson Cano.
An admitted baseball junkie that can never get enough at-bats or ground balls, his love of baseball and the rush and honor of playing made it impossible to be a spectator for nine innings on baseball’s biggest stage.
And yet there were some people that didn’t want him to play.
Chosen to be a part of his eighth All-Star Game, the Mariners second baseman shrugged off the notion that he should rest his aching quadriceps in preparation for the second half of the season.
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“If I’m here, I’m going to play,” he said defiantly to the talk-radio notion on Monday. “I want to play.”
Not only did Cano play, but he won the game for the American League on Tuesday night while taking home Most Valuable Player honors.
His laser of a solo homer over the right-field wall, on a curveball from Cubs closer Wade Davis in the top of the 10th inning, provided the go-ahead run for the American League in a 2-1 win at Marlins Park.
“He throws the hard cutter,” Cano said. “In my head, I was thinking, ‘You need to get the (bat) head out in front.’ But he hung the breaking ball and I put a good swing on it.”
He joins Ichiro (2007) and Ken Griffey Jr. (1992) as Mariners to be named an All-Star Game MVP.
“It’s always good to accomplish great things in front of your family,” he said, holding his young daughter, Galia Sofia, and his son, Robinson, to his right. “As a kid, you watch Griffey and all those guys that come to the All-Star Game and win MVP, you want to get that feeling. I got it once in the Home Run Derby. It feels great.”
Cano was definitely feeling no pain in that quad as he jogged around the bases, blowing bubbles and flashing his easy, toothy grin.
“It’s a little better,” he said, grinning. “You could see me limping a little bit.”
Cleveland’s Andrew Miller closed out the game to get the save while Boston closer Craig Kimbrel picked up the win in relief. After loading the bases in the top of the ninth, Kimbrel came back to strike out Redmond High product Michael Conforto swinging to end the inning.
In years past, Cano’s heroics might have ensured the Mariners or another AL team home-field advantage in the World Series. Aside from being a somewhat preposterous notion for a team that hasn’t sniffed the postseason since 2001, the rules for this year’s game have changed.
This time it didn’t count.
Like many All-Star Games before former commissioner Bud Selig’s controversial decision to allow home-field advantage to be determined by an exhibition game, Tuesday night’s game at Marlins Park was more celebration than competition, highlighting baseball’s growing number of talented young stars.
Per the recent collective-bargaining agreement, the All-Star Game no longer determines home-field advantage. Home-field advantage has reverted back to the team with the best record.
It was fitting, though, that this game went into extra innings. After all, it was the debacle of the 2002 game at Miller Park in Milwaukee that ended in a 7-7 tie after 11 innings that resulted, in the following season, making the game determine home-field advantage despite objections from the MLB players union.
Perhaps no moment summed up that return to fun more than just before Nelson Cruz stepped into the batter’s box in the sixth inning as a pinch-hitter, replacing starting designated hitter Corey Dickerson. Cruz reached into his back pocket and pulled out his cellphone and handed it to NL catcher Yadier Molina. He then asked plate umpire Joe West to pose for a photo.
“It was supposed to be a selfie,” Cruz said.
But his batting gloves made that impossible.
West, who surpassed the 5,000-game mark as an umpire in June, seemed confused initially, but then removed his mask while Molina knelt in front of the plate and snapped a few pics of the two smiling men.
“He’s a legend,” Cruz said. “I think that’s the only chance you have to take a picture with Joe West.”
Cruz also pointed out that West was the oldest person on the field. Something West relays to him during games. The relationship between the umpire and player dates to Cruz’s first year playing with the Rangers. That season, on a play at second where he should have slid but didn’t, Cruz thought he had made a silly baserunning out. Instead, West called him safe.
“He said, ‘Let’s go rookie, next time, slide,’ ” Cruz recalled. “That stuck in my mind. He saved my butt calling me safe.”
Still, it had to be a little awkward hitting with a cellphone in his back pocket — he did hit a deep fly ball to center.
“It was good,” he said. “I had it on silent if anyone called me.”
Asked if he was worried about damaging the phone, Cruz laughed and said, “I have insurance.”
Cruz wanted to do something similar in 2013. If he got on base he planned to take a picture with the first baseman. But he popped out in his first at-bat and left his phone on the bench in his second plate appearance when he drew a walk.
With the change in rules and the game not counting, Cruz felt like he could do the picture. The Fox broadcast did interviews with players during the game while they were playing in the field, and Alex Rodriguez delayed the game twice while doing interviews with players between innings on the field.
“I figured it wouldn’t be an issue,” Cruz said.
His teammate loved the picture.
“I really liked it,” Cano said. “This game is supposed to be fun. A lot of us liked that. That was one of the best moments in the game. Now I want to take one, too.”
It was one of a few highlights on a night where pitchers dominated. Though baseball is on pace to set a record for home runs in a season, the adage of good pitching beating good batting prevailed for much of the night. The teams combined to strike out 23 times with 17 total hits — only three of those for extra bases.
The American League grabbed a 1-0 lead in the fifth inning. Baltimore’s Jonathan Schoop doubled down the third-base line. He scored on Miguel Sano’s bloop single to right field. Three Nationals players — right fielder Bryce Harper, second baseman Daniel Murphy and first baseman Ryan Zimmerman — all sprinted for the ball, but each of them seemed unsure of what the other might do. So there was no diving attempt made by any of them and the ball dropped just feet inside the foul line.
Schoop scooted home to give the AL the lead.
“There are players that have played in like five All-Star Games and didn’t have a base hit,” Sano said. “I got a hit and a RBI.”
The NL tied the score in the sixth inning on Molina’s solo homer to right field.