LOS ANGELES — The All-Star break came later than usual this summer, deep enough in the schedule to see October off in the distance. After the game’s top players returned to their hometowns late Tuesday night after the American League’s 3-2 victory over the National League, the best team in the majors could only speculate about where its path might lead.
At 64-28, the Yankees have the best record in the majors. Next best is the Dodgers, at 60-30. After the first All-Star Game at Dodger Stadium since 1980, this may finally be the year for another early ’80s relic: a Yankees-Dodgers World Series.
“Do I ever think about it? Absolutely,” said the Yankees’ Giancarlo Stanton, whose two-run, 457-foot homer to the Dodgers’ Tony Gonsolin won him the game’s Most Valuable Player award.
“Certainly, on paper it’s lined up this way for a few years, so now both sides have to take care of business and get it done. If that’s how it ends, cool. But you’re not coming here just to enjoy the game, if that. We will try to win.”
Stanton did both Tuesday, enjoying himself and winning at a ballpark just 12 miles from Notre Dame High School in Sherman Oaks. His home run — deep into the bleachers in left-center field — tied the score in the fourth inning, and Byron Buxton of the Minnesota Twins followed with a go-ahead shot into the left-field corner.
No one scored after that, with 10 AL pitchers hitting NL after the first inning. Emmanuel Claes, the Cleveland Guardians closer, finished the power parade with three strikeouts on 10 pitches, all cutters that traveled between 97 and 100 miles per hour.
“I don’t think it’s been seen before,” said Houston’s AL manager, Dusty Baker. “We were coming out of there with some gas in the bullpen, and they were coming out of there with some gas. You thought the game was going to come down to a home run, big showmen like these guys.”
For Stanton, 32, the show had deep personal resonance. Growing up, he went to 15 or more Dodgers games each year, mesmerized by stars like Raul Mondesi, Mike Piazza and Hideo Nomo. When the league’s top sluggers came to town — Barry Bonds, Mark McGuire, Sammy Sosa — Stanton Chavez felt drawn to Ravine.
“Even for two at-bats,” he said, “just try to drive up here, get a ticket on the street and try to see what they can do.”
If he got there in time for batting practice, Stanton and his father, Mike, would position themselves in any corner of the left field bleachers, for maximum coverage of incoming assets. His All-Star teammates could tell how much it meant to Stanton to start in left field on Tuesday.
“Just him talking about it a little bit, he was like, ‘I sat a few rows from that place,’ when he was younger,” said Buxton, who started at center. “It’s one of those things you can’t help but be happy for him, being able to do what he’s done.”
The Yankees’ Aaron Judge, who started in right field, said Stanton told him on their flight to Los Angeles that he would go deep Tuesday. The two former Home Run Derby champions had a friendly duel here in batting practice, and Stanton won.
“Pretty fun,” said the judge. “So he kind of pointed to the dugout and was smiling a little.”
Judge struck out twice Tuesday, against Clayton Kershaw of the Dodgers and Joe Musgrove of the San Diego Padres. Kershaw, 34, finally started the All-Star Game after winning three Cy Young Awards, an MVP and 192 career wins. He joked about protecting his “old-man back” and took a moment to look around his home park from the mound before the first pitch, something he said he never does.
Kershaw had moved, he said, more than he would. He is having another sterling season, although he has missed a month with an injury and has been somewhat reluctant to start.
“Sandy had an unbelievable first half and he deserved it,” Kershaw said, referring to Sandy Alcantara of the Miami Marlins, who struck out Stanton and Buxton in the second inning. “I’m glad he got to pitch and I’m glad he did a great job. We all know he’s the best pitcher on the planet right now.”
Kershaw — along with Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander — was the best of his generation and won his first championship ring two years ago. He may have had more earlier, but the Dodgers lost the 2017 World Series to the Astros, who were later found to have illegally stolen opponents’ signs.
Here the fans didn’t forget, and some Astros All-Stars avoided their wrath: Second baseman Jose Altuve declined the invitation, and so did Toronto’s George Springer, the former Houston outfielder. (Both cited minor injuries for not attending.) Even Orbit, the green prankster who scampers around the Astros’ ballpark, was at home; Every other team with a mascot sent their character to the All-Star Game.
Fans still boo Baker, even though he didn’t manage the 2017 Astros and was, in fact, a two-time All-Star for the Dodgers. His first All-Star appearance for Los Angeles came in 1981, the year the Dodgers defeated the Yankees in a six-game World Series, the 11th matchup between the teams.
The Dodgers and Yankees met at least once in the World Series from the 1940s to the 1980s; Sharing the stage in October gives an extra kind of grandeur to the event. Since then, the old rivals have reached the playoffs 11 times in the same season, but ultimately failed to connect again.
A Dodgers-Yankees World Series would be a dream for Fox, even without putting live microphones on the pitchers, as they did Tuesday when the Yankees’ Nestor Cortes did the broadcast live, talking directly to the booth while working.
(The Blue Jays’ Alek Manoah took analyst John Smoltz’s suggestion to try a back-foot sinker against the Mets’ Jeff McNeil. It hit McNeill’s shoes. “It was a front foot slider,” Manoh said. “My bad.”)
The rest of the league, of course, has no reason to worry about a potential ratings bonanza for a network. Many great teams have fallen due to the randomness of the season, and before the Yankees can even contemplate a return trip here, they may have to overcome many more familiar rivals.
The Astros, who have eliminated the Yankees from the playoffs three times since 2015, have the third-best record in baseball, 59-32. They’ve beaten the Yankees in three of five this season, and will face them right after the All-Star break.
If Stanton homers, it will be against Baker’s team, not for it.
“The way he looks, the way he’s built, he should be around for an awful long time,” Baker said. “I’m just sad that we have to play him in a doubleheader on Thursday.”
James Wagner Contribution reporting.