KANSAS CITY, Mo. – There’s got to be a way to put a positive spin on this, right? Seeing Detroit ace Justin Verlander come into Kauffman Stadium and get his head kicked in like . . . well, like so many other guys who pitched in recent years for the home squad . . . that’s not an all-discouraging thing, is it?
Then you really don’t want to hear about San Francisco outfielder Melky Cabrera – the former Royal – coming back to town Tuesday and leading the National League to an 8-0 victory over the American League in the All-Star Game.
Cabrera, who was chosen Most Valuable Player, ignited a five-run first inning against Verlander with a ringing single to left before delivering the knockout punch with a two-run homer in the fourth inning against Texas lefty Matt Harrison.
It was the NL’s most lopsided victory in an 83-game series it now leads 43-38-2. The AL posted two bigger winning margins: 13-3 in 1983 at Comiskey Park in Chicago; and 12-0 in 1946 at Fenway Park in Boston.
Look, it was still a great time for the sellout crowd of 40,933.
The conditions for the first pitch at 7:18 p.m. were close to ideal for a July night in Kansas City: 90 degrees under a few scattered clouds with an 11-mph wind from the north.
By then, the night was already a success. The crowd glowed in red, white or blue T-shirts distributed prior to the game. There was a Stealth fly-over, and an emotional on-field acknowledgement of former umpire Steve Palermo’s still-poignant sacrifice.
And there was a thunderous ovation for Royals DH Billy Butler, absolutely beamed in response, during the pre-game introductions.
So the stage seemed perfect when Verlander took the mound. And who saw this coming? He is the AL’s reigning Most Valuable Player and Cy Young Award winner – so he dominates pretty much everyone everywhere.
But especially here in the Heartland.
Verlander had never surrendered more than four runs in any of 13 previous career starts at Kauffman Stadium. He’d allowed two or fewer on 11 occasions. Yes, he was facing the Royals; not the NL All-Stars.
Verlander gave up five runs in the first inning – all after opening the game by striking out Rockies outfielder Carlos Gonzalez, who served as the NL designated hitter. Verlander came out firing.
It didn’t work.
“Obviously you don’t want to go out like that,” he said. “That’ why I don’t try to throw 100 (mph) in the first inning, but this is for the fans. It usually doesn’t work out too well for me.”
Cabrera marked his return to Kauffman Stadium by whacking a first-pitch fastball into left. Brewers outfielder Ryan Braun followed with an RBI double over the head of Blue Jays right fielder JosÃ(c) Bautista for a 1-0 lead.
Verlander struck out Reds first baseman Joey Votto but loaded the bases by walking Cardinals outfielder Carlos Beltran and Giants catcher Buster Posey.
Giants third baseman Pablo Sandoval then sliced a three-run triple into the right-field corner for a 4-0 lead – the first bases-loaded triple in All-Star history.
“I was a little nervous,” he said. “I just hit it and tried to make it to third. (I) had never faced Verlander. I was just trying to get a pitch I could hit. It was a curveball.”
Braves second baseman Dan Uggla followed with a grounder to deep short that turned into an RBI single when he beat Derek Jeter’s jump throw.
Verlander finally ended a 35-pitch inning when Cardinals shortstop Rafael Furcal’s grounder to second resulted in a force-out.
“It didn’t start off too good for us,” Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter said. “In baseball, anything can happen. I don’t think there’s much concern in Detroit over that.”
Bautista said much the same.
“If you ask (Verlander),” he said, “he would probably say his control wasn’t where he would like to be. He was falling behind in the count and walking a couple of guys, which is not what he usually does.
“That sort of thing happens every now and then. I’m sure he’s not going to lose sleep over it. I’m sure he would have liked to have done better, but it happens sometimes.”
Giants right-hander Matt Cain started for the NL and got the victory for working two scoreless innings. The NL used 10 more pitchers in protecting the first All-Star shutout since its 6-0 victory in 1996 at Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia.
The NL extended its lead to 8-0 after Furcal’s two-out triple in the fourth against Harrison. Cardinals outfielder Matt Holliday followed by delivering a pinch RBI single before Cabrera pumped a 382-foot drive into the AL bullpen beyond the left-field wall.
And let’s just say Melky enjoyed his jaunt around the bases. He even tried to hand-slap second baseman Robinson Cano, his former Yankees teammate.
“I don’t want to look bad out there,” Cano said. “It’s a game, but we’re playing to win. It’s good that Melky is having fun.”
And the NL wasn’t quite done. Braun painted the right-field line for another two-out triple, which set an All-Star record: three triples by one team.
Votto grounded out, but the NL’s eight-run cushion was its biggest ever. Its previous best was 9-2 in 1969.
There wasn’t much to like for the predominantly AL crowd. Butler went hitless in two at-bats, which means a Royals player still doesn’t have a hit in an All-Star Game since Bo Jackson got two in 1989.
The AL’s best scoring chance came in the fifth after loading the bases with two outs against Dodgers lefty Clayton Kershaw on two singles and a walk. But Kershaw retired Rangers second baseman Ian Kinsler on a fly to left.
That was it.
“I am not going out losing my last one,” Braves third baseman Chipper Jones, an eight-time All-Star who is retiring after the season, told his National League teammates prior to the game.