CLEVELAND – So often in life, reality fails to exceed expectations.
However, that was certainly not the case Tuesday night for Josh Bell. The Pirates first baseman dreamed of playing in the All-Star Game since the time he was a little boy in Irving, Texas, and that childhood fantasy turned into reality at Progressive Field.
Though his National League team dropped a 4-3 decision to the American League, the usually stoic Bell was smiling broadly afterward.
“I think everything was awesome,” Bell said when asked about his experience. “I couldn’t imagine it being better. It was so much fun. It’s everything I could have ever expected, and Cleveland put on a great show. It’s an experience I’ll remember for the rest of my life.”
Bell was originally selected to the National League squad as a reserve by manager Dave Roberts of the Dodgers, who later put him in the starting lineup as the designated hitter. Bell went 1 for 2 before being removed for a pinch hitter in the seventh inning.
He talked more about his two days on the shores of Lake Erie, which included participating in Monday night’s All-Star Home Run Derby, losing to the Braves' Ronald Acuna Jr. in the first round.
Felipe Vazquez, the Pirates’ other player, did not get into the game.
In the second inning, Bell beat out an infield field single to second base off the Yankees’ Masahiro Tanaka. First base umpire Brian O’Nora originally called Bell out but the call was overturned by video review following a challenge by Roberts.
“I was confident I beat it out,” Bell said. “I’m glad it was challenged. I thought it was going to go in our favor. I was really happy.”
Bell grounded out to second base in the fourth inning while facing the White Sox’s Lucas Giolito.
Despite it being an exhibition game, AL manager Alex Cora of the Red Sox used a shift against Bell with three men on the right side of the infield. Bell just shrugged when I asked him about being shifted in a game that doesn’t count in the standings.
“That’s part of it,” he said. “That’s the game. I don’t think it’s going away anytime soon unless I start bunting and I don’t think that’s likely to happen.”
Vazquez pitched one inning in last year’s All-Star Game in Washington and was philosophical about being left sitting in the bullpen this time.
“It’s cool,” he said. “I got the chance to pitch last year. You’ve got to let other guys take their turn, too. Everything about this was great. It was a better experience this time because I knew what to expect. I could relax and have more time to take everything in.”
Here is some more of Vazquez:
Shane Bieber of the Indians was named the Most Valuable Player after striking the side out in order in the fifth inning, setting down the Cubs’ Willson Contreras, the Diamondbacks’ Ketel Marte and Acuna. That drew a big rise from the hometown crowd, which chanted “Let’s Go Bieber” once he got to two outs.
The Rangers’ Joey Gallo homered off Giants left-hander Will Smith to cap a two-run seventh inning for the AL that extended its lead to 4-1. The blast proved to be pivotal as the NL drew within in a run in the eighth on Mets rookie first baseman Pete Alonso’s two-run double, coming a day after he won the Home Run Derby.
However, Aroldis Chapman of the Yankees struck out the side in the ninth to get the save. There were 23 strikeouts, including 16 by AL pitchers.
Meanwhile, Bell and Vazquez will rejoin the Pirates on Thursday when they fly to Chicago in advance of the opener of a three-game series against the Cubs at Wrigley Field that begins Friday afternoon. The Cubs are in first place in the NL Central, but the fourth-place Pirates are just 2 ½ games behind.
“I’ll take a reset and get right back at it,” Bell said. “It’s a tough race in our division and it’s going to be fun. I’m looking forward to it.”
The Pirates return to action Friday at 2:20 p.m. (Eastern time) for the opener of a three-game series against the Cubs at Wrigley Field in Chicago. Chris Archer (3-6, 5.49) will start against Yu Darvish (2-4, 5.01). Archer has had four consecutive no-decisions with a 4.74 ERA. I will be on the entire six-game trip that includes a stop in St. Louis for three games against the Cardinals next Monday-Wednesday.
The Pirates took three of four games from the Cubs last week at PNC Park. In the series finale, Cubs manager Joe Maddon tried to charge at Hurdle, believing Pirates pitchers were intentionally throwing at Chicago hitters.
Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant, who was on the NL team, was asked before Tuesday night's game if he feels their is a rivalry brewing with the Pirates.
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