The 2014 Major League Baseball All-Star Game provided the kind of drama and spectacle that Bud Selig only imagines in his wildest dreams. It was the perfect storm of events with the past and future shining bright on the national stage.
Everything was built around New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter, who made his final appearance in the Midsummer Classic and collected two hits along the way. He was given a hero's sendoff at least three times (pregame introductions, first at-bat, being taken out).
By playing a significant role in the outcome of the game, scoring the first run, Jeter was more than just a symbolic figure on his last legs. He gave everyone watching something they will never forget.
As great as it was watching Jeter's sendoff, it wasn't the only notable thing that happened at Target Field on Tuesday night. Here are the highlights and moments from this year's All-Star Game we will remember years from now.
The Eephus Pitch!
Before we dive into the meat and potatoes of the All-Star Game, Yu Darvish had one of those moments fans were thinking about once he was announced as a member of the team.
For all the pitches Texas' ace throws, and how well he changes speeds on them, the one that regularly draws the loudest gasps from the crowd is his slowest: the eephus. Lucky for us, Darvish broke out the pitch against Troy Tulowitzki, who had no idea what to do with it, as you can see in GIF form from Mike Bertha of MLB.com here.
When we watch players at the MLB level make an incredible defensive play or crush a 98 mph fastball over 400 feet, it's easy to think of them as superheroes capable of doing anything between the lines.
It's so refreshing to see a player like Tulowitzki, who is one of the best shortstops in baseball and tied for the National League lead with 21 homers, have a human moment where he's completely baffled by what the opposing pitcher is doing.
The only thing that would have made Darvish's eephus pitch better was if the umpire had called it a strike.
Mike Trout's Ascension Continues
How do you improve on a 2012 season that saw you become the first rookie in MLB history with 30 homers and 40 steals? How high can the ceiling reasonably climb when you hit .323/.432/.557 in 2013 and finish second in AL MVP voting for the second consecutive season?
If you are Mike Trout, the answer is you slug 22 homers with a .606 slugging percentage in the first half of 2014 and win the All-Star Game MVP Award by hitting a double, triple and driving in two runs, both of which gave the AL a lead.
The scary part about how good Trout is comes from the fact that he's just 22 years old. Looking at FanGraphs' wins above replacement, his total of 26 through the first two-and-a-half seasons of his career is better than Jeter, Albert Pujols and Miguel Cabrera have had during any three-year stretch in their careers.
Dan Szymborski of ESPN.com is in charge of the ZiPS projection system, which attempts to predict future value based on career patterns and age. These are the 10 comparisons the system has come up with for Trout:
No one knows what Trout is going to be when we look back on his career, but this All-Star Game was a microcosm of everything that he does so well and why there's no one like him in baseball today.
As much fun as Darvish's eephus was, and though Trout's performance reminded us why he's so unique, the spotlight belonged to Jeter. New York's shortstop nearly made the defensive play of the game right out of the gate with a diving stop of Andrew McCutchen's hard grounder, in GIF form, via Mike Bertha of MLB.com.
The good vibes continued for Jeter, who would double off Adam Wainwright in his first at-bat and had a bloop single in the third inning. AL manager John Farrell took the future Hall of Famer out of the game before the first pitch of the fourth inning, allowing him to get a huge ovation from the crowd in Minnesota.
In typical Jeter fashion, there was no showing of emotion. He just tipped his cap, shook hands with his teammates and coaches in the dugout, then the game kept moving.
One day there will be a moment when he looks back on his career and this moment with a tear welling up, but it wouldn't suit the Jeter aura that has been built up over the last 20 years to do it on the field while he's still an active player.
Instead of emotion, he can tip his cap. We can clap along with everyone else to appreciate so many great memories over the years.
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