LAS VEGAS — The exhibition All-Star Game is often more satisfying to watch than the most significant game of the season, because the rosters are smaller, because you know the players barely need to play in it. But it’s tough to find fault with the chosen participants in the two best American League All-Star Games in recent years, or the presentations and awards ceremony after each contest.
The final contest of the season, between an actual MLB club and its AL foe from the Pacific Coast League, Saturday evening at Chase Field in Las Vegas was so thorough that it should have come with a disclaimer.
MLB and Turner Sports found itself here by producing a spectacular series of events that climaxed with a game between the defending World Series champs and the team with the worst record in the league. The Los Angeles Dodgers and Boston Red Sox had traded wins and losses in the first three meetings, but Boston has been the better team of late.
When the teams stepped on the field Saturday night, it was hard to ignore the star power that made up the 18-player rosters. While Dodgers pitchers Clayton Kershaw and Chris Sale, along with manager Dave Roberts, are coming off breakout postseason performances, and the Red Sox played without all-world shortstop Xander Bogaerts and ace David Price, there were enough solid big-leaguers to support their substantial price tags.
Kershaw began the night by walking the first two hitters he faced — Adam Jones and Mitch Moreland — but quickly dug himself out of the hole. After striking out Brian Dozier to end the inning, he didn’t allow another base runner until the fourth, when he gave up back-to-back singles and issued another walk. He finished the second with the Dodgers down one run, and after three-straight outs by his teammates, he ran into trouble in the third, giving up another walk and a single, putting runners on first and second, before being knocked out.
This came after which Chris Sale took over, unleashing 11 strikeouts through five innings, as the Red Sox slowly cut into the Dodgers’ lead. Moreland scored on a fielder’s choice for Boston’s second run in the first, while Justin Turner scored on a Chris Young sacrifice fly in the fourth.
Red Sox slugger J.D. Martinez kept the night going in the seventh with his third homer of the series, a long blast that reached the top of the right-field stands. Martinez hit 26 home runs as a regular-season and finished second in the American League in homers, but did not participate in either of the league’s All-Star games — he got to the 2018 All-Star Game by winning a fan vote and was replacing an injured Mookie Betts. Boston’s other All-Star, Betts, homered in the first inning, but exited the game with left knee discomfort. Betts had an MRI and will undergo further evaluation Monday, according to a statement issued by the team Saturday night.
The top of the eighth saw the Dodgers’ closer Kenley Jansen record his 35th save this season with the first out of the inning. Four Red Sox relievers held the lead until Craig Kimbrel got a third straight ground ball single to score Ian Kinsler, making it 4-3. After an intentional walk to Alcides Escobar, first baseman Mitch Moreland grounded into a perfect force play at second, ending the game and sending the nearly 50,000-person crowd of Suns fans into bed after about four hours of fun.
In between the Dodger bullpen and the Red Sox bullpen, there was MVP Carl Crawford. After his first hit in the game, a triple in the fourth, he scored on a Hosmer single to the right field gap, cutting the Red Sox lead to 2-1. In the seventh, with a runner on second and one out, Kemp ripped a two-run double to the right-center gap, scoring Price, who was picked off the bases a batter earlier.
While the teams are certainly worlds apart, the game certainly felt like a classic Sunday night. But since no one expected anything less, it didn’t really matter. In an era where we’re used to “two days rest for Kershaw, or two days for Sale,” baseball’s best players generally don’t show up for the final test of the season. For all intents and purposes, this was as much about entertainment value as it was about getting the cream to rise to the top.