By TOM WITHERS
CLEVELAND (AP) — Michael Brantley came back, took a well-deserved bow and delivered like always. Shane Bieber pitched a perfect inning and took home an MVP trophy and a shiny new pickup truck.
Carlos Carrasco stood up to cancer.
On an idyllic night for baseball, Cleveland connections shined brightest at the All-Star Game.
Even Sandy Alomar Jr., whose storybook home run the last time the game was played at Progressive Field in 1997 made him an MVP and local legend, enjoyed another moment on the star-studded stage.
And then Bieber matched him, winning MVP honors after striking out the side in the fifth as the AL staff combined for 16 strikeouts in a 4-3 win over the NL and returned pitching to prominence a night after Vladimir Guerrereo Jr., Pete Alonso and Joc Pederson knocked balls over Progressive Field’s walls with stunning ease.
“It’s an incredible feeling now, now that it’s kind of sinking in,” Bieber said. “Just to be able to do it in front of the home crowd and my first All-Star Game is definitely not something I expected, especially being added to the game four or five days ago.”
Bieber was a late All-Star injury replacement, only added Friday to give the Indians four representatives.
The 23-year-old, who soared through Cleveland’s minor league system and won 11 games as a rookie in 2018, showed a veteran’s poise in the fifth when he fanned Chicago’s Willson Contreras, Arizona’s Ketel Marte and Atlanta’s Ronald Acuña Jr. in succession while protecting a 1-0 lead.
The crowd chanted “Let’s Go Bieber,” during his performance, and it’s an anthem that will likely be heard each time he takes the mound going forward.
“Kind of stepped off the back of the mound after one of the pitches and wasn’t totally able to look up and see everything, just because there was so much going on, but I heard everything and really soaked it all in,” Bieber said. “I can’t really thank the fans enough for creating that moment for me and making it really special.”
While Bieber’s unexpected MVP put a perfect cap on Cleveland’s magical night — in fact, he donated his hat to the Hall of Fame — Carrasco’s appearance served as the most poignant moment.
The 32-year-old was recently diagnosed with chronic myeloid leukemia, and during Major League Baseball’s “Stand Up to Cancer” campaign, Carrasco stood in the third-base coach’s box, flanked by his teammates and Indians manager Terry Francona.
Carrasco held a sign that read “I Stand’” while Lindor’s said: “Cookie,” the pitcher’s nickname.
“When I saw him, it puts everything in perspective,” said Boston manager Alex Cora, who guided the AL team. “We get caught up in wins and losses and pennant races and all that stuff and rivalries, and then that happens. And there’s more than baseball in life.
“And we’re thinking and praying for him, his family and hopefully he can be back on the field sooner rather than later.”
Brantley returned for the first time as a member of the Houston Astros, who were happy to sign the outfielder as a free agent last winter after the Indians let him walk after 10 seasons.
He was greeted with a thunderous ovation during player introductions, stopping to squeeze Francona tightly before slapping hands with the rest of the AL squad.
“I was very emotional. I was trying to hold it together,” Brantley said. “To come back in front of these fans that I played for, for 10 years, I just want to say thank you for their support, thank you for that ovation. It means so much to me. It’s going to last a lifetime.”
Brantley heard an even bigger roar in the second inning with an RBI double off Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw for a 1-0 lead.
Alomar, a member of Cleveland’s coaching staff since 2010, caught a ceremonial first pitch from CC Sabathia, whose New York Yankees pinstripes will never completely cover his love for the Indians. He began his career in Cleveland, and it was only fitting the big left-hander got to say goodbye in his final season.
Cora sent Sabathia to the mound in the ninth inning to talk to Yankees closer Aroldis Chapman before getting another standing ovation.
“He’s one of the best pitchers in the big leagues for the last, what, 15 years,” Cora said. “The guy has won more than 250 games, 3,000 strikeouts. Everything started here in Cleveland. We all know he’s going to retire, so we wanted to let everybody know who he is and I think it was a nice tribute.”
And Cleveland’s crowd also had its say, booing Cubs All-Stars Javier Báez and Kris Bryant, who crashed their World Series party in 2016.
“If I was a (Cleveland) fan, I’d boo us, too,” Bryant said. “It was a wacky World Series.”
On this night, Cleveland celebrated its past, present and future.
“It’s such a good, hard, gritty town,” Bieber said. “I can’t say enough about how this All-Star Weekend and week has been run. I was talking to some guys and they said it’s one of the better-run All-Star Games and weekends that they’ve been to. And those are guys that have been to three or four, five, six All-Star Games.”