By Mark Zuckerman
FINAL: AL 6, NL 3
GAME IN A NUTSHELL: The 86th MLB All-Star Game already was a major event before Mike Trout stepped to the plate for the night's first at-bat. That's what happens when Pete Rose is introduced on the field in Cincinnati, and then Hank Aaron, Johnny Bench, Sandy Koufax and Willie Mays all take the field together as baseball's four greatest living players.
Trout, though, certainly did his part to turn the attention to today's active players. He hammered a home run to right off Zack Greinke to lead off the game and give the American League a quick lead. The National League got that run back thanks to Jhonny Peralta's 2-out RBI single in the second, but the NL lineup was mostly stymied the rest of the night by the AL's dynamite pitching staff.
Andrew McCutchen homered off Chris Archer to lead off the sixth, but that was it for the NL until the ninth. The AL lineup, on the other hand, was far from done. Prince Fielder and Lorenzo Cain delivered back-to-back RBI hits in the fifth off Clayton Kershaw. Manny Machado and Fielder then added big insurance RBI in the seventh off Francisco Rodriguez.
Once Brian Dozier took Mark Melancon deep in the eighth, this one had turned into a mini-rout. The AL bullpen closed out a comfortable victory and thus secured home-field advantage for the World Series for the third straight season.
HITTING HIGHLIGHT: It took Trout all of four pitches to make his presence known once again in this event. Facing Greinke (owner of a 1.39 ERA this season), he clobbered a 1-2 pitch deep to right and over Harper's head for his first career All-Star homer. Here's the really impressive part: Trout has now hit for something of a natural All-Star cycle. He singled in his first at-bat in the 2012 game. He doubled in his first at-bat in the 2013 game. He tripled in his first at-bat in the 2014 game. And now he homered in his first at-bat in the 2015 game. How cool is that?
PITCHING HIGHLIGHT: It was only one inning of relief, and it came with his team trailing in the sixth inning, but Jacob deGrom was utterly dominant on the mound. The Mets right-hander struck out Stephen Vogt, Jason Kipnis and Jose Iglesias in succession, all swinging, all on a grand total of 10 pitches. In the process, deGrom became the first pitcher in All-Star history to strike out the side on 10 or fewer pitches. Not bad.
NATS HIGHLIGHT: Harper was front-and-center in this game, batting third for the NL and starting in right field. And he wound up getting to play six innings and take three at-bats. Alas, he couldn't notch his first-ever All-Star Game hit. Harper grounded out to third off Dallas Keuchel in the first inning. He struck out against David Price in the fourth inning. And after just missing a double down the left-field line in the sixth, he struck out against Zach Britton. That's three awfully tough lefties for Harper (or anybody) to have to face in succession, but he of course won't make any excuses for an 0-for-3, 2-strikeout night. Harper's career numbers in the Midsummer Classic now stand at 0-for-6 with a walk and three strikeouts.
KEY STAT: The only Washington player ever to hit a home run in the All-Star Game remains Frank Howard off Steve Carlton in 1969 at RFK Stadium.
UP NEXT: The Midsummer Classic heads west next year, to be played in beautiful Petco Park in beautiful San Diego. Then after a stop in Miami in 2017, Nationals Park gets to host the 2018 All-Star Game. No, tickets aren't available yet.