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Baseball is almost unrecognizable even when there is nothing to do but show off MLB’s biggest stars

The Dallas Morning News 14 July, 2021 - 01:21pm

10:25 PM on Jul 13, 2021 CDT

“So,” former Ranger Lance Lynn says to his buddy and current Ranger Kyle Gibson, “we’re going to shift in an All-Star game, huh?”

Sure enough, Gibson, “nervous as all get out,” about his first All-Star Game berth looks up and notices three NL infielders on the right side of the diamond. In an exhibition. One designed to highlight big swings and big strikeouts.

And they were successful, too. Ohtani grounded out to Pittsburgh’s Adam Frazier to start things off. Lest you think this was a one-batter or one-league setup, the Dodgers’ Max Muncy did the same in the bottom of the inning.

The game is almost unrecognizable even when there is nothing to do but show off its best stars. Speaking of which, the two biggest stars in the game – Ohtani and San Diego’s Fernando Tatis Jr. – were also the first two hitters replaced. By the fourth inning both were gone.

The AL won 5-2. The game will be mostly remembered for Vladimir Guerrero Jr. hitting two balls that left the bat at over 110 mph, one that nearly de-skulled NL starter Max Scherzer, but was turned into a ground out, and another that faded into the Purple Mountains Majesty 468 feet away for a third-inning homer. The Los Angeles Angels’ Jared Walsh provided the other highlight, making a sliding catch in left field to grab Kris Bryant’s two-out, bases-loaded liner in the eighth.

As far as the Rangers go, Gibson pitched a scoreless inning. Joey Gallo walked. Adolis García struck out on three pitches in his first at-bat, then ripped a two-strike hustle double to center in the ninth. He had been too aggressive in his first at-bat, made an adjustment during the second. It was a nice night for the Rangers, an important one for García in particular.

He made a statement about his arrival on the scene with his hit, but a more important one when he was introduced. On his cap, he had written “Patria y Vida” – Homeland and Life – in solidarity with protestors in his native Cuba, where unrest is growing.

“It hurts to see the things that are going on there,” he had said a day earlier through a translator. “But there is nothing I can really do about it. I just keep them in my prayers.”

Now, back to MLB at large. Given the exclusive stage to show off its best players, they all jumbled up on the right side of the infield like the tiny little figures in an old magnetic football game trying to stop a grounder to the right side. Nobody comes to games to watch defensive positioning.

The scary thing: You probably can’t even blame this on the managers. As far as we know, Kevin Cash and Dave Roberts didn’t have defensive positioning meetings around Monday’s schedule full of festivities. The players just drifted that way when a lefty stepped in. Then again, Cash did bring Tampa Bay’s mental skills coach to the game. So, you never know. This is just how the game is currently played.

“I think it’s second nature,” Gibson said after his scoreless inning. “It’s just the natural positioning of players at this point.”

Gibson kind of shrugged his shoulders over the whole deal. It is what it is. Marketing the game and making the rules is for others. If baseball itself can’t get it right, it’s certainly not up to a skinny sinker-baller to solve it.

Gibson admitted he was nervous, almost in awe, of his first All-Star Game. He tried to strike out the first hitter he faced, but instead left an 0-2 sinker up to Pittsburgh’s Bryan Reynolds. He was saved by gigantic Aaron Judge, who ran it down in deep right center.

Then he got through the inning and simply gawked over sharing the field with baseball’s best.

“I was definitely going for the punch out and left an 0-2 fastball right down the middle,” said Gibson. “Those don’t usually come back. It was a good lesson. I was 100 percent sure it was gone. What a sigh of relief it was to turn around and have a 6-9 guy smiling at me.

“But what an experience it was crazy,” he added. “To be on the field with all these amazing players, it’s just hard to even process right now. I hope it’s not a once-in-a-lifetime event, but if it was, it was a thrill.”

To that point, Commissioner Rob Manfred is trying to make the sport itself a little more thrilling. He tried to address shifts among other topics in a town hall with reporters Tuesday morning. While he danced around most off-field topic, he did seem to indicate a desire to rid the game of shifts or dramatically reduce them in an effort to promote more action.  He said he was not in favor of “radical rule changes,” but discussed reducing shifts as more “restorative” to the game most fans grew up watching.

The idea: Promote more action and reduce walks. Which seems like a platform on which most everybody can agree. And, hey, that brings us to Gallo, who has faced shifts in 94.8 percent of his at-bats this season, third most among qualifiers. He faced another in his eighth-inning plate appearance Tuesday. Worked his way to a walk. It didn’t even draw a single clap. On the other hand, he’s probably earned an invitation to next year’s inaugural Walk Derby.

If only he had hit a grounder to the right side.

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