CINCINNATI — Mike Trout flashed the skill that puts him at the front of baseball’s new generation, just moments after four of the all-time greats walked off the field.
Trout became the first player in 38 years to homer leading off an All-Star Game, then became the first player to take home the Midsummer Classic’s MVP award two years in row.
A new-look All-Star Game finished with the same old result. The AL beat the NL 6-3 Tuesday night and will open the World Series at home for the 10th time in 13 years.
“It’s obviously a humbling honour with the MVPs,” Trout said in his usual understated, aw-shucks manner.
After Trout completed a career All-Star cycle in just his fifth big league season, Prince Fielder delivered. He drove in two runs, sending Trout blazing home ahead of Joc Pederson’s throw with the run off Clayton Kershaw that put the AL ahead for good.
In an age of dominant pitching, Felix Hernandez, winner David Price, Zach Britton, Dellin Betances and Wade Davis took scoreless turns in the AL’s third win a row.
Playing on the AL West-leading Los Angeles Angels, Trout could add an even bigger honour this fall — his first World Series ring.
“He can do anything that anybody can do on a baseball field,” AL manager Ned Yost said. “He can hit with power. He can run. He can drive the gap. He’s a great defender. He’s just special. When you look at Mike, you don’t look at a 23-year-old. You look at a guy that is one of the best baseball players on this planet.”
A season after the retirement of Derek Jeter dropped the curtain on the turn-of-century greats, Trout was among six starting position players under 25 — the most since 1965. At last year’s game in Minneapolis, he hit a tiebreaking triple and later a go-ahead double.
This time Trout sent Zack Greinke’s fourth pitch, a 94 mph fastball on the outer half of the plate, over the wall in right next to the visiting bullpen for an opposite-field homer.
Winner of his first season AL MVP award in 2014, the centre fielder joined Willie Mays, Steve Garvey, Gary Carter and Cal Ripken, Jr. as the only two-time All-Star MVPs.
Stars old and young gathered in one of baseball’s most traditional towns. The Reds became baseball’s first professional team in 1869, and players wore caps with horizontal stripes in an attempt at a 19th century feel.
Pete Rose, Cincinnati’s hometown hero and baseball’s banned career hits leader, was given an 80-second ovation when he walked onto the field before the game to join Johnny Bench, Joe Morgan and Barry Larkin, elected by fans as the Reds’ greatest players. Wearing a red jacket and tie and walking stiffly, the now 74-year-old Charlie Hustle was applauded as soon as his image appeared on the video boards, even before he emerged from the AL dugout.
And in the first All-Star Game at Great American Ballpark, which opened in 2003, fans got to see some great ballplayers.
Bench, changed into a blue jacket, returned with Hank Aaron, Mays and Sandy Koufax, voted baseball’s great living players by fans as part of the promotion. In a sentimental yet stunning reminder of generational change, Aaron, 81, and Morgan, 71, needed canes to reach the infield, and Mays, 84, was aided on and off the field by an assistant.
“Growing up, I didn’t get to see them play that much,” Trout said. “But looking up, seeing highlights of all the Hall of Famers, it’s something I really look forward to looking at and I’m learning more about them, just how great they played in every respect of the game.”
Above the field, new Commissioner Rob Manfred watched from a luxury suite, the first All-Star Game not presided over by Bud Selig since 1992.
Many players of the new generation love bling in a manner that puzzles the old guard: Posey wore a gold-colored helmet behind the plate, looking a bit like the Great Gazoo or a Praetorian Guard, accessorizing with a chest protector, shin guards and cleats all with gold-colored trim. Baltimore’s Adam Jones was shod in bright orange cleats, and Kansas City’s Lorenzo Cain and Washington’s Bryce Harper donned golden spikes.
Trout, a Generation Y star with a baby boomer work ethic, completed a unique cycle on a clear evening that followed a heavy afternoon downpour.
He singled in his All-Star debut in 2012, doubled to open 2013 game and tripled in the first inning last year. He was just the ninth player to hit for an All-Star cycle in his entire career, joining an illustrious list that includes Hall of Famers Ted Williams, Roberto Clemente, Ernie Banks, George Brett, Mike Schmidt and Mays. Fielder later became the 10th.
No one had homered leading off an All-Star Game since 1977 at old Yankee Stadium, when Morgan connected off Jim Palmer. Greinke, coming off five scoreless outings, had not allowed a run since June 13.