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July 13, 2011
Fielder for the Win
Fielder was booed at every turn during the All-Star Home Run Derby at Chase Field. The Diamondbacks' fans were upset that the Brewers first baseman, in his role as captain of the National League team, did not include hometown hero Justin Upton on his four-man squad for the derby. Instead, Fielder passed over the Diamondbacks' right fielder and picked Brewers second baseman Rickie Weeks, along with Cardinals left fielder Matt Holliday and Dodgers center fielder Matt Kemp. Weeks also felt the fans' wrath, as the Arizona faithful felt he earned his spot in the Derby solely on the basis of being Fielder's teammate.
On Tuesday night, Curly Bill regained his rightful place as Arizona's all-time bad guy, an honor he earned in the 1880s because of his numerous conflicts with the lawmen of the Earp family. Fielder won the heart of baseball fans in the Valley of the Sun with one swing of the bat.
Fielder's three-run home run in the bottom of the fourth inning off Rangers left-hander C.J. Wilson wiped out a 1-0 deficit and powered the NL to a 5-1 victory over the American League. Fielder, who lined out to left field in the first inning in his other plate appearance, was named the game's Most Valuable Player after helping the NL to its second straight victory, marking the Senior Circuit’s first winning streak since taking three in a row from 1994-96.
"I don't know if I transformed them," Fielder said, "but I understood. That just shows you how much Justin means to them. I didn't take it personal at all. I understood it. No hard feelings."
If being the MVP wasn't enough, Fielder got more good news once he reached the NL clubhouse following the game and learned that the Brewers had just traded for Mets closer Francisco Rodriguez. That should give the Brewers, who are tied for first place with the Cardinals in a tight four-team NL Central race, a dynamic late-inning relief duo as K-Rod joins closer John Axford.
"That's pretty huge," Fielder said. "That makes a great night even better."
While the Brewers and Cardinals are tied for the NL Central lead, the surprising Pirates are just one game behind and tied in the loss column, while the defending division champion Reds are only four games back despite a 45-47 record. Adding Rodriguez after acquiring Zack Greinke and Shaun Marcum for their rotation in the offseason gives the Brewers that much more hope of winning the NL pennant and getting to the World Series for the first time since 1982, the lone Fall Classic appearance in the franchise's 42-year history.
Fielder's home run could prove to be pivotal, as the Brewers would be home for Games 1, 2, 6, and 7 in the Fall Classic. They are 33-14 at Miller Park this season but just 16-29 on the road.
"If we get to the World Series, home-field advantage is obviously going to help us a ton," Fielder said. "So, yeah, that's awesome."
The NL added insurances runs in the fifth on an RBI single by the Dodgers' Andre Ethier and in the seventh on a run-scoring double by the Giants' Pablo Sandoval that bounced over the left-field wall and made it 5-1.
The AL opened the scoring in the fourth inning when the Red Sox's Adrian Gonzalez hit a two-out home run to right field off the Phillies' Cliff Lee. The Blue Jays' Jose Bautista and the Rangers' Josh Hamilton followed with singles, and manager Bruce Bochy of the Giants then pulled Lee in favor of Nationals reliever Tyler Clippard.
Clippard wound up being the winning pitcher despite failing to retire the only batter he faced. The Rangers' Adrian Beltre singled to left, but the Astros' Hunter Pence threw Bautista out at home to end the inning. Fielder hit his homer in the bottom half on a 2-2 cutter from Wilson after the Mets' Carlos Beltran and the Dodgers' Matt Kemp opened the inning with singles.
Clayton Kershaw of the Dodgers, the Braves' Jair Jurrjens, Craig Kimbrel, and Jonny Venters, Heath Bell of the Padres, Joel Hanrahan of the Pirates, and Brian Wilson of the Giants finished with a combined five scoreless innings. Brian Wilson got the last two outs for the save, while C.J. Wilson took the loss even though he was the pitcher manager Ron Washington of the Rangers wanted to face Fielder.
"C.J. made a pitch away from him and Prince went with the pitch and got him," Washington said. "That was the big inning that crippled. Their pitching came in and did the rest."
Bochy decided to bat Fielder cleanup, and it paid off.
"It's hard to beat great pitching and a three-run homer," Bochy said. "It was a great at-bat with two strikes and down by one run."
Fielder figures to be one of the most sought-after free agents on the market this upcoming winter after spending his entire seven-year career with the Brewers. He said before the season that he would not let his impending free agency become a distraction and has certainly lived up to that promise, hitting .297/.415/.575 with 22 home runs, a .316 True Average, and 2.8 WARP in 390 plate appearances.
"Our team is really good, and that helps," Fielder said when asked to explain how he keeps his focus on the field. "Whenever you have a good team, at least I feel, nobody has a bad year on the team. So I think when you're focused on winning and your team is winning, the personal achievements and all that will come, but if you're not winning, it's that much harder."
With his ample girth, friendly demeanor, and ability to hit baseballs a very long way, Fielder has became a big fan favorite in Milwaukee. He admits that saying goodbye would be emotional, but he will try to delay it until the 11th hour.
"Hopefully, I don't have to think about that until after we hold up the World Series trophy," Fielder said.
Should that fairy-tale ending come true, part of the groundwork will have been laid at Chase Field on Tuesday night, when Fielder got an entire state to change its mind.