MINNEAPOLIS — In the final act of his final All-Star Game, Derek Jeter did something that was quintessentially him. Asked about his first at-bat here Tuesday, and Adam Wainwright’s in-game acknowledgment that he had deliberately given him a good pitch to hit, Jeter tried humor to defuse a bubbling controversy.
After beginning with a serious assessment of Wainwright’s pitches, Jeter pivoted suddenly.
“I don’t know, man,’’ he said, to laughter. “If he grooved it, thank you. You’ve still got to hit it. I appreciate that, if that’s what he did.’’
Jeter ripped a leadoff double to the right-field corner off Wainwright, then scored as part of a three-run inning to help lift the American League to a 5-3 victory over the National League at Target Field. For the 12th year in a row, the winning league gets home-field advantage in the World Series.
Wainwright is intimately familiar with the concept, having started and lost Game 1 for the St. Louis Cardinals in Boston last fall. His team lost the title there to the Red Sox five games later.
Yet when Wainwright spoke with reporters Tuesday, after pitching one inning, he said he did not attack Jeter as he would a typical opponent.
“I was going to give him a couple of pipe shots,’’ Wainwright said. “He deserved it. I didn’t know he was going to hit a double or else I would have changed my mind. I thought he was going to hit something hard to the right side for a single or an out. I probably should have pitched him a little bit better.’’
Then Wainwright, a genial and candid right-hander, laughed. But his admission underscored the uneasy dynamic of awarding home-field advantage for the World Series to the winner of an exhibition game.
“We’re a better team on the road, anyway,’’ said Jonathan Lucroy, the catcher for the NL Central-leading Milwaukee Brewers, smiling. “To me, it doesn’t matter.’’
Lucroy stepped behind the dirt circle around the plate as a recording of the late Bob Sheppard, the venerable New York Yankees public-address announcer, introduced Jeter’s first at-bat. As the crowd stood and roared for Jeter, Wainwright stayed on the grass behind the mound, where he left his glove, and clapped.
“He’s one of the best pitchers in baseball,’’ Jeter said. “For him to do that says a lot about him and how much of a class act he is.’’
Finally Wainwright took the mound, and after a ball, Jeter lashed a 90-mph high fastball on a line for a double. He scored on a triple by the game’s Most Valuable Player, Mike Trout, who came home on Miguel Cabrera’s laser over the left-field fence.
Wainwright suggested he could have survived a hit by Jeter and still thrown a scoreless inning.
“I know I can put up a zero to anybody at any time,’’ he said, and explained how he wanted it to play out.
“I was hoping it would be the first pitch and he would take it,’’ Wainwright said. “Then I would say, ‘All right, I piped him one and he didn’t swing,’ so I could go to it. But I spiked it in the dirt. I gave him one more shot, and unfortunately he didn’t miss it.’’
The gift from Wainwright — who later tried to take back his comments in an interview on Fox — called to mind a similar pitch by Detroit’s Denny McLain in 1968, when another Yankee, Mickey Mantle, was winding down a storied career. McLain had his catcher, Jim Price, ask Mantle where he wanted a pitch. McLain obliged and Mantle slugged career homer No. 535, one more than Jimmie Foxx.
Back then, home-field advantage in the World Series alternated every year, and McLain’s Tigers had already clinched the AL pennant. Baseball began awarding it to the winning league in the All-Star Game in 2003. Since then, teams opening the World Series at home have won 8 of 11 championships, including the past five.
“We headed into Boston last year realizing we had our hands full already with a very good team,’’ NL manager Mike Matheny of the Cardinals said on Monday. “Any time you get in front of that home fan base, there’s an edge. Statistics show it.’’
After the game Tuesday, Matheny angrily defended Wainwright and chastised anyone who believed what his pitcher initially said.
“All he wanted to do is go out there and put up his best against Jeter,’’ Matheny said. “And unfortunately, people couldn’t pick up the tone, pick up the humor, and ran with it in the exact opposite, wrong direction.’’
Jeter finished his All-Star Game career with a .481 average (13 for 27) after a single off Alfredo Simon in the third. He went back to shortstop for the top of the fourth, but before Chris Sale’s first pitch, Alexei Ramirez took the field to replace Jeter at short.
Jeter pointed to the NL dugout as he left the diamond, pausing before the baseline and then stepping over it, like Burt Lancaster in “Field of Dreams,’’ crossing a threshold and knowing he could not return. That was the end of his All-Star Game career.
With “New York, New York’’ playing over the loudspeakers, and his parents cheering on the scoreboard, Jeter walked the length of the first base dugout, exchanging handshakes and hugs with each of the players and coaches. He returned to the field for another ovation, tipping his cap — a garish All-Star Game-only version, with a white panel in the front — to the crowd.
After the NL tied the game in the fourth, on Lucroy’s second double, the AL went ahead for good in the fifth off the Cardinals’ Pat Neshek, a former Twin. Singles by Derek Norris and Ramirez brought up Trout, who bounced a double down the left-field line to drive in the go-ahead run. A sacrifice fly by Jose Altuve, off Tyler Clippard, made it 5-3.
That is how the score stayed, with AL manager John Farrell using five relievers — although not the Yankees’ Dellin Betances — to collect the final 10 outs.
The last was the Twins’ closer, Glen Perkins, a St. Paul, Minnesota, native, who pitched to the Minnesota catcher, Kurt Suzuki. Perkins worked a 1-2-3 inning, and Jeter led the line of players slapping five on the infield after the final out.
Trout stayed on the field for a bit, selecting a Corvette over a truck as his MVP prize. Trout, 22, was born in New Jersey, like Jeter, and seems to be his natural heir as the icon of the game.
Trout and Jeter spoke admiringly of each other after the victory, and Trout was asked about Jeter’s pregame message to the team. Jeter told the players the experience goes quickly and urged them to enjoy every minute.
“He just wanted to thank us,’’ Trout said. “You know, we should be thanking him.’’