July 16, 2014 at 1:04 pm

Tony Paul

MLB Insider: Adam Wainwright wise to groove pitch to Derek Jeter, dumb to admit it

Adam Wainwright returns to the mound after giving up a home run to Miguel Cabrera in the first inning of Tuesday night’s All-Star Game. (Paul Sancya / Associated Press)

Adam Wainwright did a very noble thing. And then he did a very dumb thing.

All in the span of 45 minutes.

The Cardinals ace, who got the start for the National League in Tuesday night’s All-Star Game, gave American League leadoff man Derek Jeter an absolute cookie in the first inning. And Jeter did what Jeter does with a pitch like that, even at age 40, lacing it to right field for a double to kick off the night.

This was a cool moment because, well, I’m not sure you heard, this was Jeter’s final All-Star Game.

It was his night, from beginning to end, and getting things started with a vintage Jeter knock, with that familiar inside-out swing, made us smile. Well, it made me smile anyway.

Of course, we all were thinking that was a fat, grooved pitch by Wainwright – admittedly geeked about facing Jeter for the first time, and on such a grand stage – designed to give Jeter a perfect opportunity to go out a hero. And here’s the kicker: We didn’t care one bit – which, of course, confirms MLB’s insistence on using an exhibition to decide World Series home-field advantage is epic nonsense.

But that’s a column for another day.

Grooved pitches are nothing new in baseball.

Denny McLain gave one to Mickey Mantle in 1968, allowing Mantle to hit a home run in his final at-bat at Tiger Stadium. Mantle even tipped his cap toward McLain as he rounded the bases. In a lifetime full of mistakes, this was one of the rarer stand-up moments for McLain. Cal Ripken, playing his final All-Star Game in 2001, homered off a purpose meatball by Chan Ho Park. So there’s nothing groundbreaking about Wainwright and Jeter.

These things happen, usually out of respect, and always when the games don’t matter. (Ahem, MLB.)

What shouldn’t happen, however, is a pitcher flat-out acknowledging he served it up intentionally – which is exactly what Wainwright did, when meeting the press after his one inning was in the books.

“I was gonna give him a couple pipe shots,” Wainwright told reporters. “He deserved it.”

Maybe.

What Jeter didn’t deserve, though, was that comment.

It was totally unnecessary by Wainwright to explain himself, not to mention totally embarrassing to one of the game’s great ambassadors. Heck, the Cardinals right-hander also coughed up the triple to Mike Trout and the laser home run to Miguel Cabrera in the inning, so he easily could’ve taken the high road and said he just wasn’t locating his pitches.

Most people still would’ve been able to read between the lines, in regard to the Jeter at-bat.

The Jeter pitch was goosed, and I, for one, respected Wainwright for doing it. But then he went and ruined it – like somebody who drops a few bucks in a Salvation Army kettle, winks, smiles, and then goes on Twitter to tell the world all about his generosity.

Oh, there’s more. Wainwright then actually made things worse, which doesn’t seem possible. After the ballgame, hours after his wildly foolish admission, he apologized for saying he took it easy on Jeter, saying, instead, he actually was trying to get him out with strikes. Mkay. Then his manager, with the Cardinals and the NL, Mike Matheny, went and pulled the “taken out of context” card.

Man, if that’s the Cardinal Way, it sure ain’t what it used to be.

Leave it to Jeter to class things up.

“If he grooved it, thank you,” the Yankees captain said, laughing. “You’ve still gotta hit it.”

Bad night for Reynolds

Harold Reynolds also went to bat for Wainwright.

In doing so, Reynolds, the Fox analyst, blamed reporters for taking the Cardinals pitcher’s words out of context. Reynolds, of course, made his accusation despite not being present for the early Wainwright interview. He couldn’t possibly have been; he was in the broadcast booth, you know, broadcasting.

That was probably the lowlight of Fox’s All-Star Game broadcast, though Reynolds offered some competition when he argued Troy Tulowitzki, not Trout, was the more valuable player.

Sheesh.

Of course, we shouldn’t be surprised by some of Reynolds’ rumblings.

This is, after all, the same guy who back in his ESPN days, in the early 2000s, seriously suggested the history-rich Tigers be contracted – back when Major League Baseball was looking to eliminate a team.

Good call

Bravo, MLB. You made the right call.

Trout, with his double and triple, took home the All-Star Game MVP trophy – not to mention a fancy new corvette – beating out Cabrera (homer) and Jeter (two hits).

The easy call would’ve been to give the honor to Jeter, the feel-good story – just like baseball brass did last year with another retiring Yankee, Mariano Rivera.

Rivera’s candidacy was a stretch, given one no-strikeout inning – but was boosted because there was no other standout performance. This year, that wasn’t the case, so MLB rightly opted against the temptation to again turn the All-Star Game MVP into a lifetime achievement award.

One more hit, meanwhile, and Cabrera would’ve been Detroit’s first All-Star Game MVP.

Instead, it was Trout edging Cabrera for MVP, for a change.

Bean's new role

It wasn’t the biggest headline of All-Star week, but it’s an important one. Bill Bean, the former Tiger, is returning to baseball for the first time since coming out as gay in 1999. He is MLB’s new “ambassador for inclusion.”

“As a young player, I was trying to play with a very difficult secret,” said Bean, 50.

“Today, I’m very proud that MLB is recognizing the social responsibility and the importance of this decision to provide an equitable and inclusive workplace.”

In this role, Bean will help educate players in the majors and minors on LBGT issues and others.

Bean, a fourth-round pick by the Tigers in 1986, played six years in MLB. He tied a record with four hits in his debut, April 25, 1987, at Tiger Stadium.

Three up …

1. I don’t like that money-grubbing MLB has to develop new hats and jerseys for every special event, but gotta admit: I liked the two-toned All-Star hats.

2. Fox took a gamble when it added a writer, Tom Verducci, to its live game coverage. And while he’s not smooth on TV, he’s as well-informed as anybody.

3. Derek Jeter finished his All-Star career with a .481 average (13-for-27) in the game, trailing only Tigers legend Charlie Gehringer and Ted Kluszewski (.500).

… Three down

1. If NL manager Mike Matheny went with the obvious starting pitcher, Clayton Kershaw, instead of his own guy, the result probably would’ve been different.

2. He’s a superstar-in-training, but Dodgers outfielder Yasiel Puig had a dud All-Star Game debut. He struck out three times and missed a catchable ball in right.

3. I know the players union fought for the extra time off, but man, the All-Star break is just too long for pure baseball fans. Bring back the Thursday games, please.

Diamond digits

5 – Consecutive years the team with home-field advantage – thanks to the prior summer’s All-Star Game victory – has gone on to win the World Series.

13 – Home runs by a Tiger in the All-Star Game, with Miguel Cabrera joining that list Tuesday night. Only two Tigers, Al Kaline and Rocky Colavito, have homered more than once.

14 – Times Blue Jays sluggers have participated in the Home Run Derby, with none winning. That’s a record drought, according to Elias Sports Bureau.

20-6-1 – American League’s record in the All-Star Game since 1988.

He said it

“I just know that if I was on the mound, you’d have to earn it from me.”

– Max Scherzer, Tigers starter, talking to Bleacher Report about the mini-saga Tuesday night, when Cardinals starter Adam Wainwright gave retiring Yankee Derek Jeter a grooved pitch his first at-bat.

tpaul@detroitnews.com

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