CLEVELAND – When you’re playing in your first All-Star Game, it’s no surprise that all the people who’ve helped you along the way spring to mind.
So while White Sox ace Lucas Giolito was enjoying the fruits of his first-half success during the events leading up to Tuesday’s game at Progressive Field, he couldn’t help but think about his friend Tyler Skaggs, the Angels pitcher who died unexpectedly last week at 27.
The two buddies from California had attended each other’s weddings last winter, and Skaggs’ death was too difficult for Giolito to talk about openly in the days after it happened.
“It’s been tough,” Giolito said Tuesday before the American League’s 4-3 victory. “It’s been weird because I’m here celebrating my accomplishments, but in the back of my mind it’s still fresh and at times doesn’t feel real.
“Grief is a tough thing. I just feel so sorry. It was such a horrible thing to happen to his family. I’m going to take him with me. I have him on my hat tonight.”
Giolito then showed off his American League All-Star cap, having written Skaggs’ number 45 on the front. When he looks back on this special day years from now, he’ll always be reminded of his friend, who was honored before the game with a moment of silence.
As happens sometimes in your All-Star debut, Giolito looked shaky at the outset. After being called on to pitch the fourth with the AL leading 1-0, he walked Freddie Freeman on four pitches, with the fourth one sailing high. But Giolito settled down quickly, getting Cody Bellinger looking on a change-up, then inducing groundouts from Nolan Arenado and Josh Bell.
For most fans, the All-Star Game is all about watching their favorite players represent their teams on a national stage. For players such as Giolito and Sox catcher James McCann, it’s a chance to stop and take stock of how far you’ve come, while pondering the possibilities of what lies ahead.
“Sharing it with (Jose) Abreu is special, he’s been here before,” McCann said. “Sharing it with Lucas is a different kind of special. One, because of the relationship we’ve built this year. It’s a similar story for me, so being able to share the stage and that success after the failures together, that’s pretty amazing.”
The Sox players received polite applause during pregame introductions Tuesday, while the three Cubs – Javier Baez, Kris Bryant and Willson Contreras – were roundly booed by Indians fans, who can’t seem to get over the Game 7 loss in the 2016 World Series.
Baez pumped his fist in the air to answer the vociferous crowd, seemingly relishing a chance to show he was back and ready to do some more damage to Cleveland’s delicate psyche.
He didn’t, though, going 0 for 2 before being lifted in the bottom of the third.
Since the game no longer means anything for home-field advantage in the World Series, players have the prerogative of having a little more fun. Indians shortstop Francisco Lindor said beforehand he was planning on goofing around with Baez, an old buddy from their high school days.
“Of course,” he said. “I’m a big fan of his. I’ll be screaming to him and I’ll be laughing.”
Just like old times?
“We play the game how we always play the game,” Lindor said. “It has nothing to do with ‘We’re in the big leagues now, we’ve got to change.’ We’re representing our family, representing our country, and it shows. We’re not doing anything extra. We’re just trying to be ourselves.”
After AL starter Justin Verlander threw Baez six straight fastballs between 96 and 97 mph in the first inning, the Cubs slugger could managed only one foul ball and wound up striking out on a 3-2 slider. In the third he swung at a first-pitch curve by Jose Berrios and popped out to left, looking toward the AL dugout afterward and holding his right thumb and index finger together to indicate he just missed it.
The game is trending younger, as evidenced by the youngest starting lineup in NL history. There were 36 players participating in their first All-Star Game, the highest since 39 in the 2013 game.
For those who just love the game, warts and all, the All-Star Game is an opportunity to see the best pitchers in the world facing off against the best hitters. What more could anyone ask for?
“Baseball’s All-Star Game is the best All-Star Game in sports, hands down, period,” Nationals pitcher Max Scherzer said. “This is a real game. Everybody is going out there giving it their all. The pitchers are coming out there trying to throw it as hard as they can. The hitters are trying to hit home runs. You’re seeing great players all across the diamond.
“This is real baseball. This is baseball at its highest form, really. … I know when I watch the other sports’ All-Star formats I come away with a bad taste in my mouth because it doesn’t look like the real sport. As a fan, I’ve got to think they enjoy baseball’s All-Star Game because of how competitive it is.”
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