Chicago Cubs: Contreras makes history in thrilling All-Star Game

by - Senior Writer -
Willson Contreras became the first Chicago Cubs catcher to ever hit a home run at the All-Star Game. (Photo Credit: Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports)
Willson Contreras became the first Chicago Cubs catcher to ever hit a home run at the All-Star Game. (Photo Credit: Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports)

WASHINGTON, DC — The first two pitches thrown to Chicago Cubs players in the 89th edition of the MLB All-Star Game resulted in hits, one of which scored the first run of the game for the National League. With second baseman Javier Baez and catcher Willson Contreras taking part in the All-Star Game for the first time in their respective careers, the Cubs hitters, both of whom started, made immediate impacts at the plate.

Becoming the first catcher in Cubs history to hit a home run at the All-Star Game, Contreras smacked a solo blast on the first pitch of his first at-bat, taking Rays pitcher Blake Snell deep for a 364-foot blast to left. With the homer, Contreras became the fourth Cub in the past 50 years to go yard at the Midsummer Classic and just the sixth Venezuelan player to ever do so. Also, the lined dinger made Contreras, who whacked a round-tripper in his first career plate appearance in 2016, the first player in big-league history to hit a home run on both the first pitch of his career and the first pitch of his All-Star Game debut.

Prior to the solo shot by Contreras, Baez also tallied a first-pitch hit, collecting a single off Boston Red Sox left-hander Chris Sale in the first at-bat of the game for the National League. Baez grounded out and flied out in his other two plate appearances to finish 1-3. In his only other at-bat after the home run, Contreras grounded out to go 1-2 with a bat in his hands. Baez and Contreras played five innings before being substituted for prior to the start of the sixth frame. Cubs starting pitcher Jon Lester was also a member of the National League squad, but he was made ineligible to pitch in the exhibition after starting on Sunday.

Contreras was certainly not alone in going yard, as 10 home runs were hit at Nationals Park on Tuesday night, which established a new All-Star Game record. Marking one of the most thrilling All-Star Games ever, the contest went to extra innings, where the American League used a pair of solo home runs hit by Houston Astros teammates to top the National League 8-6 in 10 innings of play.

A symbolic representation of the current homer-happy status of the big leagues, the matchup saw 13 of its 14 runs scored via the home-run ball, with five of the National League's seven hits coming on home runs. This year's All-Star Game, which was just the second installment of the contest since the incentive of home-field advantage in the World Series was done away with, had its tone set early by New York Yankees slugger Aaron Judge and continued to build from there.

Offense was the story of the game, but expert pitching was on display, too. Making the start on the mound for the National League in front of his home fans, Washington Nationals ace Max Scherzer threw some serious heat through two innings on the bump, fanning four batters in the process. However, Judge got to Scherzer in the second inning with a 399-foot solo bomb to left. As for Nationals slugger Bryce Harper, who won Monday's Home Run Derby, he failed to put together a memorable All-Star performance at his home stadium, going 0-2 with two strikeouts.

Facing New York Mets hurler Jacob deGrom, superstar outfielder Mike Trout of the Los Angeles Angels went deep in the third inning for a 401-foot shot that put the American League up 2-0. After Contreras's long ball in the bottom of the third made it 2-1, both teams went cold at the plate, with the score standing at 2-1 until the bottom of the seventh, when Colorado Rockies shortstop Trevor Story boomed a solo jack just over the wall in left to knot the game up at two runs apiece.

From there, the contest became video game-like, with the two teams combining for six home runs in the final three innings. First, Seattle Mariners shortstop Jean Segura, who was given the chance to play in the All-Star Game after winning the final fan vote, drilled a three-run home run off Milwaukee Brewers reliever Josh Hader in the top of the eighth to give the American League a 5-2 advantage. Segura took advantage of the new life given to him after Cincinnati Reds first baseman Joey Votto dropped a fouled pop-up on the previous pitch, for which Votto was charged with an error.

Then, in the bottom half of the same inning, Brewers outfielder Christian Yelich avenged his teammate Hader by getting a run back for the National League on a solo homer against Astros pitcher Charlie Morton, who gave up two home runs in a two-inning appearance. The American League had a chance to finish off the National League when leading by two runs in the bottom of the ninth. However, in a battle of first-time All-Stars, Cincinnati Reds second baseman Scooter Gennett trumped Seattle Mariners closer Edwin Diaz by hitting a clutch two-run homer to tie the ballgame at 5-5 and force extra innings.

Interestingly, the game was essentially decided by a matchup between a Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher and a couple of Astros hitters. What makes that interesting is the fact that, based upon last season's World Series, the American League squad was coached by the Astros coaching staff and the National League squad was coached by the Dodgers coaching staff.

With Dodgers starter Ross Stripling toeing the rubber, the American League quickly bounced back after giving up two runs in the bottom of the ninth. Astros third baseman Alex Bregman led off the 10th and swatted a solo homer, which was followed by a blast off the bat of Astros center fielder George Springer. The back-to-back jacks put the American League up by two runs. Later in the inning, Segura scored his second run of the game on a sacrifice fly by Cleveland Indians outfielder Michael Brantley, which marked the only run of the game scored as a result of something other than a home run.

Votto provided the American League with a brief scare when he led off the bottom of the 10th with the 10th and final home run of the matchup. The 409-footer to right, which came against Toronto Blue Jays pitcher J.A. Happ, served as the game's longest round-tripper. Happ gained control thereafter and forced the National League into three outs in three consecutive at-bats to secure the 8-6 victory for the American League.

Despite blowing a save opportunity in the ninth, Diaz received the winning decision, and Stripling, who was taken for three runs on four hits in 1.2 innings of work, was charged with the loss. Furthermore, Happ was credited with a save for his efforts, and Bregman, who went 1-3 at the plate in his first All-Star Game appearance, won MVP honors for hitting the game-winning home run.

The offensive outputs by both teams were fairly balanced, with Segura, Springer and Boston Red Sox first baseman Mitch Moreland serving as the only players to tally multiple hits. With the 8-6 triumph, the American League defeated the National League for the sixth consecutive year at the Midsummer Classic. The result broke an all-time tie in the event, as the American League improved to 44-43-2 in the All-Star Game while dropping the National League to 43-44-2.

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