In a game celebrating stars past and present, it was the man at the intersection of the two who shined brightest Tuesday night.
From the moment he walked out of the dugout on Tuesday, beginning his warm up for the first All-Star Game at Dodger Stadium since 1980, Clayton Kershaw was met with immediate applause.
When he was introduced during a pregame ceremony while getting loose in the bullpen, a hometown crowd of 52,518 erupted in one of its loudest cheers of the night.
And before he toed the rubber for the first All-Star Game start of his career, taking the field to his usual entrance song of “We Are Young” by Fun, Kershaw took a step back and let himself gaze at the surroundings — a rare moment of sentimentality from the 34-year-old pitcher.
“Knowing that I’m not going to get to start an All-Star Game at Dodger Stadium ever again,” Kershaw said, “it was just really cool for me to kind of take that all in at once.”
The American League won baseball’s 92nd All-Star Game, prevailing 3-2 on back-to-back fourth-inning home runs Giancarlo Stanton of the New York Yankees and Byron Buxton of the Minnesota Twins hit against Dodgers pitcher Tony Gonsolin.
It was Kershaw, however, who at his home ballpark was treated like the game’s biggest star.
“I can’t say enough good things about Dodger fans, people in L.A. in general, just how much these last few days, how much they wanted me to do this,” said Kershaw, who has spent his entire career with the Dodgers but will be a free agent at the end of the season. “It meant a lot to me, too. So that was really cool.”
There were other players, personalities and pulsating recognitions on Tuesday night.
During team introductions, former Dodger fan favorites Joc Pederson, Corey Seager and Albert Pujols were showered with cheers. Representatives from the rival San Diego Padres, San Francisco Giants and Houston Astros were greeted with boos. And as each of the Dodgers’ other five All-Stars were announced, the ovation culminated in raucous celebration.
“It was amazing,” Dodgers outfielder Mookie Betts said. “Anytime I can be a part of an all-star game, it’s going to be amazing, but especially in your backyard.”
Historic figures were honored, as well.
Dodger great Fernando Valenzuela threw out the ceremonial first pitch. The team’s retiring Spanish-language broadcaster Jaime Jarrín was honored with a mid-game video. And the late Jackie Robinson was remembered 75 years after breaking baseball’s color barrier.
Actor Denzel Washington gave a speech memorializing Robinson’s pioneering life. Betts was surrounded on the field pregame by both teams as he led the stadium in wishing a happy birthday to Robinson’s widow, Rachel, who in a happy coincidence turned 100 years old on Tuesday.
“I think that tribute there is probably the thing I’ll remember the most,” Betts said. “It was very special for me to be able to be on the mic and say it, it meant a lot.”
But when first pitch finally arrived, all eyes returned to Kershaw, who had never before started an All-Star Game in his future Hall of Fame career.
“I’m gonna throw as hard as I can,” Kershaw said in an on-field pregame television interview. “It’s gonna be 91. We’ll see what happens.”
His first pitch indeed clocked at 90.9 mph, Kershaw gave up a leadoff single to Angels two-way star Shohei Ohtani, who was swinging as he had promised during his own pregame television interview.
But then the left-hander picked off Ohtani at first base, the first in an All-Star Game since 2008. He struck out Aaron Judge a pitch later, sending the crowd into pandemonium again. And he finished his outing by standing a two-out walk, exiting to one more standing ovation after a scoreless opening inning.
“I actually had a lot of fun pitching,” Kershaw said. “Usually, I don’t have a lot of fun until we win.”
For a while, it seemed like the NL would not only win, but that Kershaw would be the pitcher of record, too.
In the bottom of the first, Mookie Betts opened the scoring with an RBI single, driving home Ronald Acuña Jr. after his leadoff double.
AL second baseman Andrés Giménez turned a double-play later in the inning with a behind-the-back flip, but then Paul Goldschmidt made the NL’s lead 2-0 with a solo home run to left.
In the top of the fourth, however, Gonsolin gave up back-to-back home runs: A tying two-run, 457-foot blast to Stanton, a Sherman Oaks Notre Dame product who was named the game’s most valuable player, then a solo bomb from Buxton that gave the AL a 3-2 lead.
The NL couldn’t rally, going without another hit until the eighth inning en route to its ninth consecutive All-Star Game defeat.
Betts left the contest after the top of the third, finishing with just the one at-bat.
Dodgers shortstop Trea Turner went one for two with a single in what was his first career All-Star start.
Dodgers first baseman Freddie Freeman grounded out in his only trip to the plate as a pinch hitter, when he smiled at the “Fred-die!” chants serenading him from the crowd.
“Having my name chanted at Dodger Stadium in an All-Star Game,” Freeman said, “I don’t think it can get much better than that.”
But on a night that tied together baseball threads old and new, the most memorable moments belonged to Kershaw — the 15-year veteran, nine-time All-Star and forever Los Angeles icon who most embodied both.
“I don’t know if I have the right words for it right now,” Kershaw said. “But it was such a unique experience for me that I think I’ll look back on it and think, ‘Man, I’m so glad I got to do that.’ I’m really thankful I got that opportunity.”