Tuesday was Derek Jeter’s night and the American League helped him take a bow in his final All-Star game with a two-hit curtain call in a 5-3 victory, but the Braves left Minneapolis with their share of good memories from their own slice of the 2014 All-Star experience.
Freddie Freeman made the most of his first game action in his second straight trip to an All-Star game, with his first hit and first three innings in the field and Craig Kimbrel struck out the side in a scoreless seventh inning.
“We wish we would have won the game,” said Kimbrel, 26, who was pitching in his fourth straight All-Star game in his first four full major league seasons. “It didn’t happen but we still enjoyed ourselves and had a lot of fun.”
Freeman came off the bench to play the final three innings at first base and along the way, fielded his first ground ball, stretched into his first split, dove into the stands after his first foul ball, committed his first error and then capped it off with his first All-Star base hit.
“It was pretty cool,” Freeman said afterward, in the visiting clubhouse at Target Field. “Once the first ground ball came to me at first base, (Kyle) Seager hit it, it calmed the nerves a little bit. It was a waiting game. I was waiting to get in there, anxious, and once I got in there, it was pretty cool.”
In his eighth inning at-bat, Freeman – king of the ambush, or swinging at the first pitch – had the presence of mind to take the first pitch from Oakland left-hander Sean Doolittle for a ball and regroup. He then swung and fouled off a strike, then 1-1, worked a single through the right side.
“That’s a special moment, obviously,” Freeman said. “I was just trying to make contact really, out there. The hands were shaking a little bit. But once I swung 1-0 and got that one out of the way, everything calmed down after that….It’s definitely in front of a lot of people, in person and on TV, and to be able to come through and get a hit was a cool experience.”
Freeman won the fans’ Final Vote last year but couldn’t play because of a sore left thumb. This time around he was voted in by the players, coaches and managers, a different sort of honor for him to be chosen by his peers, and the thumb was good.
He used it to show off his glove in the sixth inning on a pair of nice plays at first base, starting with when he picked Seager’s grounder and the second when he stretched to complete a highlight play against Michael Brantley on a throw from second baseman Dee Gordon.
But in the seventh inning, with Kimbrel on the mound, Freeman went diving into the stands along the right field line after a pop-foul by White Sox shortstop Alexei Ramirez. Not only did a fan beat him to the ball, but Freeman gave both Kimbrel and his manager (Fredi Gonzalez was a coach on NL manager Mike Matheny’s staff) a scare as he twisted awkwardly trying to make the play.
Freeman got charged with an error shortly thereafter on a Ramirez grounder, but Kimbrel struck out both Brandon Moss and Ian Kinsler to escape the inning.
“I kind of bent weird, and I look over in the dugout and Skip is going like this in the dugout,” said Freeman, imitating Gonzalez thumping his chest, as if to say his heart was pounding. “But we all had a good laugh and I got Craig to be able to get another strikeout making that error right there. So I did that for him.”
Kimbrel rolled his eyes from one locker over at Freeman’s suggestion, laughing as he played along, saying, “Yeah, so I could get an extra strikeout.”
Kimbrel did some of his best All-Star work yet, getting two of his strikeouts on 97 mph fastballs and the other on one of his biting breaking balls. He also got the experience of saying goodbye to three of the games icons over the past three years.
“I think in ‘12 with Chipper (Jones) and his last All-Star game, last year it was Mo’s (Mariano Rivera) last All-Star game and this year it was Jeter’s,” Kimbrel said. “They all have their importance in baseball itself, so they were all very special All-Star games just to be a part of.”
Julio Teheran felt the same way, even though he knew he wasn’t going to be available to pitch after starting Sunday for the Braves in Chicago.
Teheran spent his time soaking up the atmosphere and getting to know some of the best players in the game, like Reds ace Johnny Cueto. Teheran said Cueto wanted to chat up their April 27 showdown in Atlanta when the two dueled through eight shutout innings, allowing only three hits apiece, before turning it over to their bullpens in a 1-0 win in 10 innings by the Braves.
Teheran said he got a big thrill just riding on the back of a Chevy truck to the game, with his parents, girlfriend and another friend during the red carpet parade along 7th Street. He was pleasantly surprised to hear Braves fans shouting his name, and he exchanged a little “tomahawk chop” with them.
“That’s something that made me proud,” Teheran said. “And something that you just want to keep (coming back).”