MINNEAPOLIS – Now to the first hitter Adam Wainwright was trying to get out: Mike Trout. He tripled.
It'll be years before any pipe shots come Trout's way. A man earns those over time, in October, through championships, like a statue or a plaque or a bobblehead.
Yet, in spite of three consecutive at-bats one might consider competitive, and three outcomes one might reasonably assume were genuine, Trout bore up under the challenge and managed two hits and one fly ball to the left-field warning track. For this hardship, he was honored as the Most Valuable Player of the 85th All-Star Game, won, 5-3, by Trout's American Leaguers.
As a reward, they gave him his choice of cars and Trout opted for the two-seater with the silvery paint job and red interior, the 'Vette parked at shortstop, and he took the keys and got behind the wheel. The journey, the ride, has just begun.
He's not yet 23, and the momentum builds, and he's too young and it's too soon for all this to be happening, and then he gets better, and he stands on a baseball field with the best in the game and drives off in the coolest car.
John Farrell, the AL manager from Boston, was asked about all that was Derek Jeter on Tuesday night at Target Field, and what he said was, "I think we as fans know that every career can't go on to infinity," and that is the sobering, blissful truth. The game moves slow, picks up pieces as it goes, lets go of others, and one day Jeter waves good-bye while Trout wonders what the top end on this freakin' 'Vette is.
"Let Mike be Mike," Jeter said, a request that is more than fair but, for a couple days here, largely ignored.
So Jeter leads off the bottom of the first inning with a double, two bases that would carry the postgame conversation here. A few minutes later, in a very L.A. moment, Trout gets a fastball away and rifles it to right field and Yasiel Puig zigzags something like a route to the wall and lunges wildly at the ball, which does not find his glove but clangs nearby. So there's Jeter watching, turning and running, and here comes Trout at hyper-speed, literally now chasing Jeter, who is forever ahead but precisely where Trout would like to go. It's an exhibition game painted in network television trappings, including contrived postseason consequences, and still there is drama, because sometimes a game is a game and that's plenty for some.
Besides, Trout, the Jersey guy, doesn't seem to mind. Jeter scores and Trout arrives at third base in a head-first cloud of symbolism, and there's a sense Trout is just as excited about driving in his idol as are the angle-seeking poets on deadline. It's not a burden, he said. Course, very little is when you're a career .313 hitter, done three All-Star Games and are generally viewed as the most skilled player in the sport, all before you could own that 'Vette but, legally, would be more complicated for him to rent.
"Growing up, I was setting goals to myself that when I get, if I ever get the chance to get to the big leagues, that's how I want to play," Trout said. "And the way he carries himself on and off the field, how he respects the game. Always hustling, it doesn't matter what the score is. If they are down 10 runs, he is always running the ball out. That's how I want to play."
— Mike Trout (@Trouty20) July 16, 2014
So he does, with thousands more opportunities to continue the course if he is healthy and fortunate enough to reach middle age as a ballplayer.
For the moment, it'll do to be the youngest All-Star MVP since Ken Griffey Jr. in 1992, in his third All-Star Game before he turns 23, previously done only by Griffey, Mickey Mantle and Al Kaline. That triple gave the AL a 1-0 lead, which grew to 3-0 when Miguel Cabrera homered to left field. Trout waited at home for Cabrera, the AL's MVP the past two seasons to Trout's runner-up, and the two banged forearms in celebration. Four innings later Trout's double off Pat Neshek gave the AL a 4-3 lead. In the latter at-bat, he'd been a touch in front of a pitch, thrown sidearm so as to seem to come out of the top stripe of Neshek's sock, and bounced it over the third-base bag. Derek Norris scored from second base.
Trout left the game in the sixth inning and Jeter, who'd left with wonderful ceremony in the fourth, chided him for it.
"He said he wanted me to play nine innings," Trout said.
Afterward, Trout laughed with friends and family. He asked one to hold the big glass bat that also came with his MVP. He had to get out of his dirty, sweaty uniform, and get packed up, and return to a season that holds so much more. To return to what, against reason, feels like infinity.
"I just like the adrenaline rush, going out there and having fun," he said.
And if his night really, truly belonged to someone else, to someone like Jeter, all the better. In fact, just perfect.
"It's something special," Mike Trout said. "I can't really describe it. I get chills just thinking about it. He's the man."