LOS ANGELES — The All-Star Sport has visited 37 completely different ballparks, together with some greater than as soon as, since its final version at Dodger Stadium. Ten of these websites have been razed, and three others now not host Main League Baseball video games. Chavez Ravine nonetheless glows.
Which may be a part of the issue, not less than for hitters Tuesday night. The Nationwide League’s Clayton Kershaw will take the mound in his residence park to throw the primary pitch to the American League’s Shohei Ohtani shortly after 5 p.m. native time — prime time for East Coast viewers, and for California shadows.
“I’m not blissful in regards to the shadows; I’m not blissful about dealing with Kershaw, both,” the Yankees’ Aaron Decide, who will observe Ohtani within the batting order, mentioned with amusing on Monday. “It’s robust as a result of the ball’s going from mild to darkish, you’re making an attempt to choose up spin — and also you don’t know if it’s a fastball at your face or if it’s going to be a slider that breaks over the plate. Particularly a man like him who has a nasty curveball and an excellent little cutter-slider-heater combine, it’s going to be a troublesome matchup. However we’re going to placed on a present for the followers.”
The final time the present was right here, in 1980, Ken Griffey Sr. homered off Tommy John to win the sport’s Most Invaluable Participant Award. That was earlier than Griffey grew to become higher referred to as the daddy of a Corridor of Famer, Ken Jr., and earlier than John’s left elbow operation went mainstream within the sport. The extra vital second, although, got here in these first-inning shadows, when J.R. Richard unleashed the only best pitch in baseball historical past.
That distinction is fully subjective, in fact. However take into account the circumstances: No pitcher, to that time, had ever been taller than Richard, a 6-foot-8 right-hander for the Houston Astros who died final yr. He had led the majors in strikeouts in every of the 2 prior seasons, topping 300 each instances, with a hellacious fastball and a 94 mile-an-hour slider.
And there was this: Richard stood tall within the daylight, with residence plate coated in shadows. He threw solely fastballs till falling behind, 3-1, in opposition to the cleanup man, the Yankees’ Reggie Jackson, who had by no means confronted him.
The following pitch jackknifed down and in, jolting Don Drysdale within the ABC sales space — “one of many quickest sliders recognized to mankind,” he mentioned — and turning Jackson right into a human pretzel, twisting him into the filth as he misplaced his stability. Jackson waved at one other slider, within the filth, for strike three.
“Helpless — helpless,” Jackson mentioned not too long ago. “It didn’t matter if he threw you a fastball, and with a slider, you simply hoped you didn’t damage your self with some form of a wild, bizarre swing. That’s what I had. You couldn’t see the fastball due to the daylight, and the slider mainly was unhittable. Simply let me get outta right here and transfer on.”
Richard was truly making an attempt to train warning by working solely two innings and limiting his slider use. It was quickly clear that he by no means ought to have pitched; he’d been experiencing fatigue that might erupt in a career-ending stroke three weeks later.
Groups are infinitely extra cautious now. By league rule, pitchers who began on Sunday can’t work within the All-Star Sport, and even these with extra relaxation — like Ohtani and Houston’s Justin Verlander this yr — can decline to pitch.
However there are many dominant pitchers to go round. Main league hitters are batting a collective .242 this season, which might be the bottom for a full season in 55 years. The A.L. starter, Shane McClanahan of the Tampa Bay Rays, is holding hitters to a .176 common this yr, with a serious league-low 1.71 E.R.A.
“These guys are laborious sufficient to hit already,” mentioned the N.L.’s cleanup hitter, Cardinals first baseman Paul Goldschmidt, who leads his league in hitting at .330. “As a hitter, you’re simply making an attempt to simplify when it’s harder to see, possibly shorten your swing and attempt to do much less, as a result of your response time’s going to be lower down and also you may not choose up the ball fairly as early.”
As starters for baseball’s marquee summer time occasion, McClanahan and Kershaw may hardly be extra completely different. Kershaw, 34, is a nine-time All-Star who gained all three of his N.L. Cy Younger Awards earlier than McClanahan graduated highschool. McClanahan, 25, is so nameless that the A.L. supervisor, Houston’s Dusty Baker, forgot that his staff had truly confronted him in a 2020 playoff sport.
“Inform you the reality, I’ve by no means seen him pitch,” Baker mentioned. “We didn’t play him in any respect this yr, however all people that I’ve talked to instructed me that he’s nasty, and so he’s my alternative.”
Kershaw, oddly, had by no means began an All-Star Sport, handed over within the years he was energetic for Roy Halladay, Matt Cain, Matt Harvey, Adam Wainwright, Zack Greinke and Hyun-jin Ryu. Kershaw has made solely 12 begins this season, however in two of them he was good via seven innings. He’s 7-2 with a 2.13 E.R.A.
“Thanks for letting me begin this factor,” Kershaw mentioned at a information convention on Monday, gesturing to the N.L. supervisor, Brian Snitker of Atlanta. “It’s laborious, as a result of clearly Sandy Alcantara, Tony Gonsolin, Max Fried, all these guys have higher numbers than I do and they need to be beginning this sport and I get that.
“However all that to say, I’m simply so excited I get to do it right here at Dodger Stadium. I actually didn’t assume something of it on the time; I used to be like, ‘Properly, yeah, it could be enjoyable to do it or no matter’ — however now that it’s lastly right here and I get to begin that sport tomorrow evening, it simply means rather a lot.”
Kershaw added that he merely hoped to not mess it up too badly, however he ought to know higher. A twilight begin for the premier pitcher of this technology and a rising star within the A.L.? What’s a poor hitter to do?
“Hope for a cloudy day tomorrow,” Goldschmidt mentioned.