Less than nine months ago, Johnny Cueto dominated the New York Mets in Game 2 of the World Series, twirling a two-hit masterpiece to help the Kansas City Royals win their first championship in 30 years. In Tuesday night's All-Star Game, with home-field advantage in this year's World Series on the line, the Royals thanked him for his service by depositing his pitches into the seats.
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Royals first baseman Eric Hosmer and catcher Salvador Perez bashed home runs in the span of three batters in the second inning off Cueto, powering the American League to a 4-2 win--and becoming the first pair of teammates to homer in the same All-Star Game since Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz of the Boston Red Sox in 2004.
Hosmer added an RBI single in the third inning off Miami Marlins ace Jose Fernandez to earn MVP honors. Cueto, who parlayed his October brilliance into a $130 million free-agent contract this winter with the San Francisco Giants, failed to contain his old chums, sending the National League to their fourth straight All-Star loss.
"I felt like a proud papa there in the second inning after those two guys gave us the lead, and I was really excited," said Royals manager Ned Yost, who helmed the AL side. "It's been a long time since I've been that proud of two players in a moment like that."
The Royals understand as well as anyone the benefit of their league's winning the All-Star Game. It gave them home-field advantage in the past two World Series, including last year's five-game disposal of the Mets.
"We know how much that home-field advantage helped us," Hosmer said. "When you are talking the first two games of the World Series at your home field, it just brings that sense of comfort to the team and gives you a jump start for the whole series." The team with home-field advantage has won 24 of the last 30 World Series, though the Royals were an exception in 2014.
The fans in Kansas City have apparently received the memo. They stuffed the ballot box last season, voting four of their players into the starting lineup. This year, they made sure Hosmer and Perez would have their moment here at Petco Park--and the two took full advantage, driving in all four runs the AL scored.
As much as Tuesday felt like a celebration of the Royals' magical ride from last season, everything went wrong for their World Series opponent, the Mets. Even with Mets Terry Collins leading the NL squad, none of the four Mets named to the roster appeared in the game Tuesday--the only NL team not represented on the field.
Outfielder Yoenis Cespedes, voted to start, had to pull out because of a quad injury. Pitcher Noah Syndergaard, a top candidate to start the game on the mound, couldn't play because of an arm issue. That left starting pitcher Bartolo Colon and closer Jeurys Familia, whom Collins didn't use for strategic reasons. Afterward, Familia initially declined to speak with the media, before eventually agreeing and saying, "I'm not disappointed."
Oh, and if that wasn't bad enough, Collins had to sit in the dugout and watch as the Royals tormented him again on one of baseball's grandest stages.
"You don't win the World Championship without having a good team," Collins said. "They have great players, and Ned does a great job, and it was a lot of fun."
Ortiz, an iconic Red Sox slugger, loomed over the entire night. He plans to retire at the end of 2016 after 20 seasons--making Tuesday's All-Star Game, his 10th, also his last.
Starting as the designated hitter, Ortiz didn't make his mark in the batter's box, going 0-for-1 with a walk. Fernandez had said previously that he intended to groove Ortiz nothing but fastballs to give him a chance to hit a home run--only go to go back on his word once Ortiz stepped in the box.
"He told me it was the catcher's fault--he called it," said Ortiz, who addressed the AL team before the game. "Then 3-2 he threw me a slider, and I'm like, 'Are you trying to break my back?'
After Yost removed Ortiz from the game, the crowd of 42,386 sent him off with a rousing standing ovation--one of many that will follow him for the rest of the season.
Over the past few days, however, plenty of players lobbied for Ortiz to keep playing. At age 40, he leads the majors with 34 doubles and a 1.107 on-base-plus-slugging percentage.
On Tuesday, he put that idea to rest. "There's no way when you're at the beach, having a beer, having a good time, watching the waves that you want to go back to the gym," he said.
But thanks to Hosmer and Perez, his road to one last championship could be a little bit easier.
Write to Jared Diamond at email@example.com