Dreaming of an All-Star Game as a World Series preview
By Tyler Kepner
The All-Star break came later than usual this summer, deep enough in the schedule to see October off in the distance. As the game’s top players scattered back to their home cities late Tuesday night, after the American League’s 3-2 victory over the National League, the majors’ best team could guess where its path might lead.
At 64-28, the New York Yankees have the majors’ best record. The next best belongs to the Los Angeles Dodgers, at 60-30. After the first All-Star Game at Dodger Stadium since 1980, this could finally be the year for another relic of the early ’80s: a Yankees-Dodgers World Series.
“Do I ever think about it? Absolutely,” said the Yankees’ Giancarlo Stanton, whose two-run, 457-foot homer off the Dodgers’ Tony Gonsolin earned him the game’s MVP award.
“For sure, on paper it’s lined up that way for a few years, so now both sides need to take care of business and get it done. If that’s how it ends up, cool. But you’re not coming in here just enjoying playing here, if that’s the case. We’re going to try to win.”
Stanton did both on Tuesday, enjoying himself and winning at a ballpark only 12 miles from his alma mater, Notre Dame High School in Sherman Oaks. His home run — deep into the bleachers in left-center field — tied the score in the fourth inning, and Byron Buxton of the Minnesota Twins followed with a go-ahead shot into the left-field corner.
Nobody scored after that, with 10 AL pitchers holding the NL to one hit after the first inning. Emmanuel Clase, the closer for the Cleveland Guardians, finished the power parade with three strikeouts on 10 pitches, all cutters that traveled between 97 and 100 mph.
“I don’t think that’s been seen before,” said Houston’s Dusty Baker, the AL manager. “We were coming out of there with some gas in the bullpen, and they were coming out of there with some gas. You figured that the game was going to come down to the home runs, as big a showmen as these guys are.”
For Stanton, 32, the show had deep personal resonance. Growing up, he would go to 15 or so Dodgers games every year, enthralled by stars like Raul Mondesi, Mike Piazza and Hideo Nomo. When the league’s top sluggers came to town — Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa — Stanton felt a pull to Chavez Ravine.
“Even for two at-bats,” he said, “just try to drive down here, get a ticket off the street and come try to see what they can do.”
If he got there in time for batting practice, Stanton and his father, Mike, would station themselves at either corner of the left field bleachers, for maximum coverage of incoming treasures. His All-Star teammates could tell how much it meant to Stanton to start in left field on Tuesday.
“Just him talking about it a little bit, he was like, ‘I sat a few rows from that spot,’ when he was little,” said Buxton, who started in center. “It’s one of those things you couldn’t be happier for him, just being able to do what he did.”
The Yankees’ Aaron Judge, who started in right field, said Stanton told him on their flight to Los Angeles that he would go deep on Tuesday. The two former Home Run Derby champions staged a friendly duel in batting practice here, and Stanton won.
“Pretty fun,” Judge said. “That’s why he kind of pointed in the dugout and was laughing a little bit.”
Judge struck out twice on Tuesday, against the Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw and Joe Musgrove of the San Diego Padres. Kershaw, 34, finally started the All-Star Game after three Cy Young Awards, an MVP and 192 career victories. He joked about protecting his “old-man back” and took a moment before the first pitch to look around his home park from the mound, which he said he never does.
Kershaw was moved, he said, more than he expected to be. He is having another sterling season, though he missed a month with an injury and was a bit sheepish about getting the start.
“Sandy had an incredible first half and he deserves it,” Kershaw said, referring to Sandy Alcantara of the Miami Marlins, who struck out Stanton and Buxton in the second inning. “I’m glad he got to pitch and I’m glad he did a great job. We all know that he’s the best pitcher on the planet right now.”
Kershaw — with Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander — has been the best of his generation, and two years ago he won his first championship ring. He might have had one sooner, but the Dodgers lost the 2017 World Series to the Houston Astros, who were later found to have illegally stolen opponents’ signs.
Fans here have not forgotten, and some Astros All-Stars avoided their wrath: second baseman José Altuve declined the invitation, and so did Toronto’s George Springer, a former Houston outfielder. (Both cited minor injuries for not attending.) Even Orbit, the green prankster who scampers around the Astros’ ballpark, stayed home; every other team with a mascot sent its character to the All-Star Game.
The fans still booed Baker, even though he did not manage the 2017 Astros and was, in fact, a two-time All-Star for the Dodgers. The first of his All-Star appearances for Los Angeles came in 1981, which was the year the Dodgers beat the Yankees in a six-game World Series, the 11th matchup between the teams.
The Dodgers and the Yankees met in the World Series at least once a decade from the 1940s through the 1980s; sharing the stage in October lent an extra kind of majesty to the event. Since then, the old rivals have reached the playoffs in the same season 11 times, but never reconnected at the end.
A Dodgers-Yankees World Series would be a dream for Fox, even without putting live microphones on pitchers, as they did on Tuesday when the Yankees’ Néstor Cortés livened the broadcast by talking directly to the booth as he worked.
(The Blue Jays’ Alek Manoah did, too, taking the analyst John Smoltz’s advice to try a back-foot sinker against the New York Mets’ Jeff McNeil. It hit McNeil’s shoe. “That was a front-foot slider,” Manoah said. “My bad.”)
The rest of the league, of course, has no reason to care about a potential ratings bonanza for a network. Many great teams have been felled by the randomness of the postseason, and before the Yankees can contemplate a return trip here, they may have to get past a much more familiar rival.
The Astros, who have eliminated the Yankees from the playoffs three times since 2015, have baseball’s third-best record, at 59-32. They have beaten the Yankees in three of five games this season, and are set to face them again right after the All-Star break.
If Stanton homers then, it will be against Baker’s team, not for it.
“The way he’s looking, the way he’s built, he should be around for an awful long time,” Baker said. “I just regret that we have to play him in a doubleheader on Thursday.”