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Dodger Stadium Shadows Could Aid All-Star Pitchers


LOS ANGELES — The All-Star Game has visited 37 different ballparks, including some greater than once, since its last edition at Dodger Stadium. Ten of those sites have been razed, and three others now not host Major League Baseball games. Chavez Ravine still glows.

That could be a part of the issue, not less than for hitters Tuesday evening. The National League’s Clayton Kershaw will take the mound in his home park to throw the primary pitch to the American League’s Shohei Ohtani shortly after 5 p.m. local time — prime time for East Coast viewers, and for California shadows.

“I’m not pleased concerning the shadows; I’m not pleased about facing Kershaw, either,” the Yankees’ Aaron Judge, who will follow Ohtani within the batting order, said with amusing on Monday. “It’s tough since the ball’s going from light to dark, you’re trying to select up spin — and also you don’t know if it’s a fastball at your face or if it’s going to be a slider that breaks over the plate. Especially a man like him who has a nasty curveball and an excellent little cutter-slider-heater mix, it’s going to be a tricky matchup. But we’re going to placed on a show for the fans.”

The last time the show was here, in 1980, Ken Griffey Sr. homered off Tommy John to win the sport’s Most Beneficial Player Award. That was before Griffey became higher generally known as the daddy of a Hall of Famer, Ken Jr., and before John’s left elbow operation went mainstream in the sport. The more significant moment, though, got here in those first-inning shadows, when J.R. Richard unleashed the one biggest pitch in baseball history.

That distinction is entirely subjective, after all. But consider the circumstances: No pitcher, to that time, had ever been taller than Richard, a 6-foot-8 right-hander for the Houston Astros who died last 12 months. He had led the majors in strikeouts in each of the 2 prior seasons, topping 300 each times, with a hellacious fastball and a 94 mile-an-hour slider.

And there was this: Richard stood tall in the daylight, with home plate covered in shadows. He threw only fastballs until falling behind, 3-1, against the cleanup man, the Yankees’ Reggie Jackson, who had never faced him.

The following pitch jackknifed down and in, jolting Don Drysdale within the ABC booth — “one among the quickest sliders known to mankind,” he said — and turning Jackson right into a human pretzel, twisting him into the dirt as he lost his balance. Jackson waved at one other slider, within the dirt, for strike three.

“Helpless — helpless,” Jackson said recently. “It didn’t matter if he threw you a fastball, and with a slider, you simply hoped you didn’t hurt yourself with some form of a wild, weird swing. That’s what I had. You couldn’t see the fastball due to the sunlight, and the slider principally was unhittable. Just let me get outta here and move on.”

Richard was actually attempting to exercise caution by working only two innings and limiting his slider use. It was soon clear that he never must have pitched; he’d been experiencing fatigue that will erupt in a career-ending stroke three weeks later.

Teams are infinitely more careful now. By league rule, pitchers who began on Sunday cannot work within the All-Star Game, and even those with more rest — like Ohtani and Houston’s Justin Verlander this 12 months — can decline to pitch.

But there are many dominant pitchers to go around. Major league hitters are batting a collective .242 this season, which can be the bottom for a full season in 55 years. The A.L. starter, Shane McClanahan of the Tampa Bay Rays, is holding hitters to a .176 average this 12 months, with a serious league-low 1.71 E.R.A.

“These guys are hard enough to hit already,” said the N.L.’s cleanup hitter, Cardinals first baseman Paul Goldschmidt, who leads his league in hitting at .330. “As a hitter, you’re just attempting to simplify when it’s tougher to see, perhaps shorten your swing and check out to do less, because your response time’s going to be cut down and you may not pick up the ball quite as early.”

As starters for baseball’s marquee summer event, McClanahan and Kershaw could hardly be more different. Kershaw, 34, is a nine-time All-Star who won all three of his N.L. Cy Young Awards before McClanahan graduated highschool. McClanahan, 25, is so anonymous that the A.L. manager, Houston’s Dusty Baker, forgot that his team had actually faced him in a 2020 playoff game.

“Inform you the reality, I’ve never seen him pitch,” Baker said. “We didn’t play him in any respect this 12 months, but everybody that I’ve talked to told me that he’s nasty, and so he’s my selection.”

Kershaw, oddly, had never began an All-Star Game, omitted within the years he was energetic for Roy Halladay, Matt Cain, Matt Harvey, Adam Wainwright, Zack Greinke and Hyun-jin Ryu. Kershaw has made only 12 starts this season, but in two of them he was perfect through seven innings. He’s 7-2 with a 2.13 E.R.A.

“Thanks for letting me start this thing,” Kershaw said at a news conference on Monday, gesturing to the N.L. manager, Brian Snitker of Atlanta. “It’s hard, because obviously Sandy Alcantara, Tony Gonsolin, Max Fried, all these guys have higher numbers than I do and so they must be starting this game and I get that.

“But all that to say, I’m just so excited I get to do it here at Dodger Stadium. I actually didn’t think anything of it on the time; I used to be like, ‘Well, yeah, it could be fun to do it or whatever’ — but now that it’s finally here and I get to start out that game tomorrow night, it just means rather a lot.”

Kershaw added that he simply hoped to not mess it up too badly, but he should know higher. A twilight start for the premier pitcher of this generation and a rising star within the A.L.? What’s a poor hitter to do?

“Hope for a cloudy day tomorrow,” Goldschmidt said.

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