KANSAS CITY, MO - American League All-Star Justin Verlander #35 of the Detroit Tigers pitches in the first inning during the 83rd MLB All-Star Game at Kauffman Stadium. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Joey Votto and Justin Verlander squared off on Tuesday night, and it reminded us why the All-Star Game can be interesting for a few seconds, at least.
It's pretty cool to dislike the All-Star Game, even if you're a baseball nerd. I don't know the exact percentages, but I'd guess the breakdown of interest among baseball nerds goes something like this:
01 percent - Really, really interested.
31 percent - Kind of interested! I mean, sort of. Maybe.
49 percent - Wait, there's no baseball tomorrow either? Okay, okay, I'll watch for a couple of minutes.
19 percent - lol nope
It's not exactly a mystery why, either. If you're reading this, you probably watch a lot of baseball. Like, a lot of baseball. No one likes to stand near you at cocktail parties because you talk about rosin bags. Your wedding vows had, or will have, Chuck Carr anecdotes. And you're used to the game being played a certain way, at a certain pace. Then you see something like this:
A replay showed that Ian Kinsler flinched the wrong way initially, so it's not like he decided to let the ball go through in a fit of pro-Chipper fervor. But I think in a regular-season game -- even with an 8-0 score -- Kinsler at least gets a glove on that. Pretty sure Miguel Cabrera could have gotten there from third, but he didn't think Kinsler was going to have a problem with it.
It's not an egregious example. It's not something that makes you shake your fist at Kinsler. That's just the All-Star Game. It's supposed to be fun. We spend six months convincing ourselves that baseball isn't fun; that's it's serious business. Then a game comes along that reminds you it's just a game, and it can be unpalatable. It's too different.
I'm in that 31 percent up there every year. But every year -- every danged year -- I remember why I should be in the one percent. Just because Pete Rose isn't knocking the mustache off Ray Fosse anymore, that doesn't mean there aren't awesome things you can't see any other time.
Verlander was knocked around, which is what you have to expect when you run into a buzzsaw lineup filled with Giants hitters, but he's still one of the game's best pitchers. If I had to choose one pitcher to win that hypothetical Game 7, it would have to be Verlander, right? There isn't a right answer, but I'm going with Verlander. He's probably the best pitcher on the planet.
And as long as you're down the hypothetical rabbit hole, if you have to choose one hitter in a Game 7 scenario, it's probably Votto. You might go with Miguel Cabrera, or someone else. I'll take Votto.
So last night, we got to see the best pitcher alive against the best hitter alive. It wasn't the first time the two had faced each other -- Votto saw 10 pitches against Verlander in their first matchup, just over a month ago. Well, 14 pitches to be precise, but four of those were an intentional walk. Votto struck out in his first at-bat against Verlander and doubled in his second.
The first pitch was a 98-m.p.h. fastball that tailed outside. A less disciplined hitter might have chased it, but it was a pretty easy take.
The second pitch was a 97-m.p.h. fastball that Votto swung through. It was a good location: up and away, but it probably would have been called a strike.
The third pitch was a 99-m.p.h. fastball that was a bit up, and the fourth pitch was a curve that bounced in the dirt.
That made it 3-and-1, and Verlander was already a little pissed that he had allowed a run. He wasn't going to start walking people, and he had his best fastball. That meant Votto was going to get something to hit.
There. Right there. That's why I like the All-Star Game. It's meaningless, with a light sprinkling of manufactured meaning on top. There's pride at stake, and there's the home-field advantage, but a poor performance can be brushed off. It's still just an exhibition, no matter what anyone says. And if Verlander wants to say, "Screw it. I'm throwing my hardest fastball down the middle to Joey Votto," he can. And he did it. Twice.
It's not that these situations don't occur in the wild, during the organically scheduled regular season. But in the All-Star Game, there's a much greater chance you're going to see something like this. In the regular season, Verlander might have pitched to a corner. He had an open base, and Votto is a ludicrously dangerous hitter.
In the All-Star Game, though, Verlander could give him two fastballs to hit. They were two of Verlander's best fastballs, which, by extension, would make them two of the best fastballs in the history of baseball. If you think that's hyperbole, you're overestimating just how many 100-m.p.h. fastballs -- ones that the pitcher could control, mind you -- there have been.
Completely unhittable. Maybe unhittable is the wrong word. Unswingattable, then. There isn't a hitter alive who wouldn't have done the exact same thing after two triple-digit fastballs in a full count. Joey Votto is one of the best hitters alive, and he had two good rips at great fastballs, but the odds will always favor one of the best pitchers alive, especially when the pitcher can drop an 81-m.p.h. curveball into the middle of the zone after two straight 99+ fastballs.
There were a lot of boring parts to the game, and by next July, your perception of the All-Star game will be something like Wade Miley pitching to Lance Lynn with Jim Johnson running the bases, even if that's not what really happened. I get that. I'm with you. But for one at-bat, you get it. Verlander against Votto, with a final three-pitch sequence that was as elegant and powerful as baseball gets.
You can keep making fun of the All-Star Game. It deserves it. But don't pretend there isn't a single part of you that can't appreciate that kind of match-up. It happens every year.