Last night at the 83rd annual Midsummer Classic, the National League put a beating on the American League, and three Washington Nationals were right in the middle of all the fun. Gio Gonzalez and Stephen Strasburg both put in an inning of work, and Bryce Harper got two at bats and was the left fielder for the majority of the game. Although it was maybe not the flashiest of performances for the Nats' All-Stars, Washington was certainly well-represented under the Kansas City lights.
The capital's biggest goofball wasn't messing around at Kauffman Stadium; Gio's performance was probably the most striking of the three Nationals (no pun intended). He came in the game as the first reliever for starter Matt Cain of the San Francisco Giants, and his pitches were on point. His fastball never left the 94-95 mph range, and his curveball only missed once. He started out with a pop, striking out Mike Napoli of the Texas Rangers (.228 AVG) swinging. He then induced a fly-out and a ground-out from New York Yankees teammates Curtis Granderson (.248 AVG) and Derek Jeter (.308 AVG), to complete his 1-2-3, 11-pitch inning. Gio was surely flashing that trademark smile after a strong performance on the big stage that made the hearts of Nationals fans everywhere swell with pride.
For the first time this year, Strasburg pitched after Gio, but that's not to say he had any lighter of a battery to go up against. Strasburg faced the heart of the AL's All-Star lineup: Robinson Cano (Yankees), Josh Hamilton (Rangers), Jose Bautista (Toronto Blue Jays) and Prince Fielder (Detroit Tigers). He handled a lineup that would have any major league pitcher shaking in his spikes with his usual finesse and professionalism, although according his Twitter, he was pretty riled up on the inside.
Strasburg gave up a single to Cano (.374 AVG) to lead off the inning, but quickly erased him when Hamilton (.308 AVG) grounded into a double play after just three pitches. Next up was Home Run Derby finalist Bautista (.244 AVG), who never took a swing in his entire at bat. Bautista watched as two strikes sailed over the plate before eventually drawing a free pass to first base. Strasburg may have been a little extra careful with Bautista after giving up a home run to him in June, because according to Ian Desmond, "Stras doesn't forget Joey Bats."
With two outs and a runner on, Strasburg certainly wasn't going to allow the reigning Home Run Derby king, Prince Fielder (.299 AVG), a repeat performance of the night before; he got Fielder to line out after two pitches. Although it wasn't the dominating, strikeout-filled Strasburg performance Nationals fans have been treated to in the past, it was certainly effective, and it contributed to the National League's eventual shut out of the American League, winning 8-0 at the end of the night.
The world saw the best and the worst of Bryce Harper last night, as he became the youngest ever position player to appear in an All-Star game.For the best, baseball fans got to see Harper's patience at the plate and his aggressive base running: Harper drew a walk on six pitches from Los Angeles Angels starter Jered Weaver (1.96 ERA) to lead off the fifth, then tagged up to advance to second on a pop fly by the Giants' Buster Posey. For the worst, Harper got a little too aggressive with his base running and got caught in a pickle going from second to third. His most notorious play of the night though, was the fly ball that he lost in the lights. The ball dropped behind him as he stood in left field with his hands out and an expression on his face that said, "well, I can't see a darn thing." After the game when Harper was asked about the botched play, he shrugged it off, although knowing the pressure he puts on himself, he was probably just covering up his inner displeasure.
"It didn't hit me in the head, so I think I'm doing OK…Nothing you could do about it. It happens. I wasn't really bummed out. I don't even care. It's going to happen probably 40 more times in my career, so ... whatever," Harper said of the awkward incident, according to Mark Zuckerman.
In his final at bat of the night, Harper struck out looking on a 96 mph fastball by Oakland Athletics closer Ryan Cook (1.41 ERA), denying viewers the spectacle of the Harper Bomb. While last night's Bryce Harper was definitely not the Bryce Harper Nats fans know he can be, he still got a shout out from Jeter during an on-game interview, who said that Mike Trout and Harper are the type of guys who play the game right, and who play it hard.
Despite the fact that Ian Desmond could not play in the game due to a nagging injury, the Nationals still enjoyed the status of being one of the few teams this season that can say four of their players are considered the best of the best of 2012. Washington baseball hasn't had a prouder moment, and Nationals fans can probably look forward to more moments like it in the years to come, as this exciting team is just getting started lighting up D.C. and igniting the Natitude of all of Major League Baseball.