Derek Jeter's final All-Star Game was perfect.
And a fraud. Partially, anyway...or maybe not at all.
It's hard to tell, really. The only thing that's true either way is that we've been handed an unwanted controversy that might stick around for a while, courtesy of Adam Wainwright.
First of all, if you missed Jeter's final All-Star appearance at Target Field on Tuesday night, you missed one for the books.
The longtime New York Yankees shortstop and soon-to-be retiree received a loud ovation when he was introduced as the American League's leadoff hitter, another when he stepped to the plate for his first at-bat and another still when he was removed in the top of the fourth inning.
In between it all, Jeter went 2-for-2. The first of those two hits was a leadoff double down the right field line off Wainwright, an all-too-perfect cap for a trip to the plate that began with Jeter tipping his helmet to the crowd and Wainwright even standing off the mound and applauding with everyone else.
Better yet, Jeter then came home on a triple off the right field wall by Mike Trout, scoring the first run of what would be an eventual 5-3 AL victory over the National League.
Yes, now there was a moment—one of those All-Star moment-y moments, one to be cherished forever, and eventually recounted for grandkids.
But then Wainwright spoke.
The St. Louis Cardinals ace held court with reporters shortly after his one inning was complete. Among those there to pick up what he was dropping was Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports:
Oh. Well, he's joking, right? Surely he has to be joking.
There might have been a moment of serene cyberspace silence after word came down from Passan and others about Wainwright's comments. But if there was, it didn't last long. Soon, Internet people were doing what Internet people do best:
Freaking the heck out.
I don't know how many tweets there were. It was some unfathomable number, most likely. Then the blogs picked it up, including Drew Silva of Hardball Talk, Dayn Perry of CBSSports.com and Mike Cardillo of The Big Lead. And, as I said earlier, now here we are, and rightfully so.
The 2014 All-Star Game always was going to be about Derek Jeter. Given the kind of year he's been having—.272 average and .646 OPS—we could only hope that he'd be able to do something special. There he was doing special things, thereby earning all the attention he was getting.
And Wainwright stole it.
It was inevitable that Wainwright would be forced to go into damage-control mode. As it turned out, he got going before the game even ended, appearing for an interview with Erin Andrews in the National League dugout in which he said the following, via Drew Silva of Hardball Talk:
Sometimes my humor goes … uh … gets taken the wrong way. I feel terrible about this. If anyone’s taking any credit away from what Derek Jeter has done tonight … I mean, it was mis-said. I made a mistake by that. I hope people realize I’m not intentionally giving hits up out there. I know this game means something.
I’m guessing people think I’m trying to give up home runs to Miguel Cabrera too. I’m very competitive. I think I said yesterday that I didn’t want Derek Jeter to get a hit. I think I said it today, even, before I pitched. So I don’t know. It’s a distraction and I do not want to be a distraction.
I wanted it to be all for Derek. If anything is taking away from his moment then I sincerely apologize. At no point in my career have I gone out and intentionally given up hits.
In so many words: "Geez, would you people lighten up? But before you do that, geez, I'm totally sorry. I fudged up, guys. Seriously. I'm sorry."
Should we believe Wainwright?
Well, you can go watch the video of the "pipe shots" comment over at The Cincinnati Enquirer's website. If you do, you'll find that Wainwright didn't give any obvious cues that he was speaking sarcastically. If he was kidding, it was in a super-dry, Wes Anderson kind of way.
It was either that, or he was being totally serious, which is what Passan is implying pretty heavily right here:
But maybe the thing to do is look at the pitch itself, which looked like this:
That was a 90 mph fastball at the knees. It's not an easy pitch for most hitters to handle, but maybe Wainwright had been reading up on the scouting report on Jeter. According to BaseballSavant.com, he's 5-for-15 (.313) on 89-91 mph pitches at the knees this season.
We're going to consider the myth neither confirmed nor debunked. We're simply going to consider it to be plausible.
And now we're all going to agree that this whole thing is a damn shame regardless.
Even for Wainwright. He could now be a villain in some circles, and he doesn't deserve to be no matter where you're coming from. Beyond being a fantastic pitcher, he's one of the league's true good guys.
He's more for enjoying himself than for causing trouble, and he's generally—and I'm speaking partially from experience here—fantastic with the media. So it frankly sucks to see him involved in something like this.
It's also certainly a damn shame for Jeter. Goodness knows he's accustomed to dealing with silly controversies, but he probably wasn't planning on dealing with one at his final All-Star Game. And going forward, part of the overall legend of his final All-Star performance will always be how legit it was. He doesn't deserve that.
Last of all, this whole thing is a damn shame for Major League Baseball too. The league needs as many memorable All-Star Games as it can get, and the 2014 Midsummer Classic had a chance to be memorable for all the right reasons.
Now it's going to be memorable for at least one wrong reason.
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