By Steve Silverman
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Major League Baseball did a nice job of honoring its past Tuesday when Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Sandy Koufax and Johnny Bench walked out to the center of the field inside Great American Ball Park as the sport paid homage to four of its greatest living players.
Then the young players took over and with Mike Trout and Jacob deGrom playing starring roles, baseball showed why it still puts on the best All-Star Game of the four major sports.
Baseball emphasized its past with the “Franchise Four” before the game, but it put the spotlight on its future during the game.
Trout is the brightest of “Generation Next,” and he may be to the All-Star Game in the years to come what Mays was in the 1950s and ‘60s.
He is the most dynamic five-tool player in recent memory. His explosive power was on display in his first at-bat of the night when he took Zack Greinke over the right field wall. Greinke made a good pitch over the outside corner to Trout, but good was not good enough. It was a few inches higher than Greinke wanted, and Trout made him pay.
Greinke, who had a 1.39 ERA during the season’s first half, said after the game that pitchers have about a two-inch window when it comes to Trout. If pitchers miss that spot, he’ll either hammer the baseball or take the pitch for a ball.
Greinke was on his game Tuesday night. He struck out four American League batters in his two innings, and became the first All-Star Game pitcher to fan that many batters since Pedro Martinez did it in 1999.
After Trout banged that home run giving the AL a first-inning lead, he may have made a more important contribution in the fifth inning. After Alcides Escobar touched Clayton Kershaw for a single, Trout hit what appeared to be a perfect double play ball. However, instead of coasting down the line, Trout busted it from his first step out of the box.
He beat Jhonny Peralta’s relay to first base and showed off his speed later that inning when Prince Fielder sliced a single through the left side that Dodgers outfielder Joc Pederson charged and threw home. Pederson’s throw probably would have gotten nearly any other baserunner, but it didn’t come close to getting Trout.
In addition to his speed, he ran the perfect route on the bases to give the AL back a lead that it would not relinquish. Major League Baseball’s StatCast tool measured Trout’s speed at 20.4 MPH as he scored the go-ahead run.
The baserunning probably had as much to do with Trout winning his second consecutive All-Star Game MVP Award as the home run. No player had ever won back-to-back MVPs before, and it further validated his status as the top young star in baseball.
There are a number of excellent young players who are close, including Bryce Harper, Kris Bryant and Pederson, but Trout is the king of the hill.
Royals manager Ned Yost sang his praises after the game, and the complements were well deserved.
“He can do anything that anybody can do on a baseball field,” Yost said. “He can hit with power. He can run. He can drive the gap. He’s a great defender. When you look at Mike, you see one of the best baseball players on this planet.”
While Andrew McCutchen also hit a home run in the game, the player who opened the most eyes with his performance was deGrom. The Mets’ pitcher said he was nervous in the bullpen before he came into the game in the sixth inning, but those nerves disappeared in a hurry.
He was frighteningly good as he struck out Stephen Vogt, Jason Kipnis and Jose Iglesias on 10 pitches. That’s the only time in All-Star history that a pitcher has struck out the side on 10 or fewer pitchers. Koufax never did it, Bob Gibson never did it and neither did Pedro Martinez.
“That was unreal,” deGrom said. “I was looking forward to getting a chance to throw, and I was pretty nervous in the bullpen, but when I got out there, the nerves kind of went away. And it was an awesome experience.”
Kipnis was extremely impressed with what he saw during his at bat against deGrom.
“It was good morning, good afternoon, ball outside, goodnight,” Kipnis said of his at-bat, the only one to last more than three pitches. “He’s a power pitcher, a strong pitcher and a good one, and I got to see it tonight.”
Mets fans have known what they have in deGrom. Now the rest of the country knows it as well.
If only he had had the chance to pitch to Trout. That would have been something.
Follow Steve on Twitter at @ProFootballBoy