MIAMI — Baseball has a way of doing this — of finding symmetry in history, of connecting the present to the past, of putting a new spin of something that happened fifty years ago to the exact day.
July 11, 1967: Tony Perez hits an extra-innings homer to lift the NL past the AL in the All-Star Game by the score of 2-1 in Anaheim.
July 11, 2017: Robinson Cano hits an extra-innings homer to lift the AL past the NL in the All-Star Game by the score of 2-1 in Miami.
There wasn’t a single extra-innings homer in the All-Star game between them. Just those two. Spread apart 50 years ago to the day. And that’s not even the most incredible thing.
Before Tuesday night’s All-Star Game in Miami, baseball put together a ceremony to honor the game’s Latin American history. Eight Latin-born Hall of Famers threw out first pitches to eight Latin-born All-Stars.
In one group? Tony Perez. In the other group? Robinson Cano.
About three and a half hours later, Cano would connect off a pitch from Cubs closer Wade Davis and put the AL ahead for good. It was his first All-Star Game homer, and only his second hit in seven career All-Star Games. Both the timing and the historic context couldn’t have been better.
“Those guys started this game for Latin American players,” Cano said. “Guys that really made this game so fun and exciting, made fans come and watch and opened the door for us.”
He’s talking about Perez, Orlando Cepeda, Juan Marichal, Luis Aparicio, Rod Carew, Roberto Alomar, Pedro Martinez and soon-to-be Hall of Famer Ivan Rodriguez.
“To catch that first pitch and say hello to them and be in that picture, I just can’t wait to get to social media and get that picture and put it in a frame in my home.”
He’s going to need more than one frame. The homer was a picture-perfect moment too. As he rounded first base, he smiled and pointed to the AL dugout, which jumped to its feet as Cano’s blast flew over the right field fence.
Another picture-perfect moment came during the postgame press conference as Cano held his 5-month-old daughter Galia Sofia tightly. He smiled that big smile of his and planted a kiss on her cheek.
“It’s always good to be able to accomplish something great,” Cano said. “Especially in front of my family. I remember that I told my dad, if I play, it’s great.”
Cano wasn’t one of the original All-Stars. He was named to the team as a replacement Friday when the AL revised its roster because injured players and pitchers wouldn’t be able to play.
Of course it was the guy who was a last-minute add who also brought the last-minute heroics.
Cano said he didn’t know until recently that the MLB rules had changed and the All-Star Game didn’t count for home-field advantage in the World Series. When he learned that, Cano figured he had a better chance to play, since there would likely be more roster substitutions.
He was called on in the seventh inning to pinch hit and struck out. But he stayed in the game to play second base. And when his spot in the lineup came up again, he made the most of it. He was the savior of a game that was dragging on into extra innings. Before too many people started wondering about ties, Cano knocked Davis’ knuckle-curve over the fence. Prior to that, Davis had only allowed just four homers in the past four years.
Cano knew facing Davis was going to be tough, so he told himself, “You have to get your head out front and be able to handle the breaking ball.”
The pep talk worked.
“You come here and as a kid you watch Griffey and all those guys that came to the All-Star Game winning MVP,” Cano said. “You want to get that feeling. I already got it once for the Home Run Derby. I want to have this feeling.”
Bringing back those great feelings, the ones you’ve chased since childhood.
Baseball has a way of doing that too.
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