Trout handles whatever the NL throws at him
Angels phenom singles, walks, steals to become youngest All-Star to get a hit since '55
KANSAS CITY -- If there's a challenge Mike Trout can't handle, the baseball world hasn't found it, and that includes mastermind Tony La Russa.
During Tuesday night's All-Star Game at Kauffman Stadium, Trout experienced the yin and yang of opposing pitchers. First it was the Mets' R.A. Dickey, owner of the greatest and most innovative knuckleball in the game. Then it was the Reds' Aroldis Chapman, hurler of a devastating fastball that reaches velocities up to 102 mph.
"You don't know where the knuckleball is going," Trout said, "and that heater, you blink and it's by you."
No worries. The Angels' star rookie reached base each time anyway. He stroked a sixth-inning base hit up the middle off Dickey -- becoming the youngest player to do so in an All-Star Game in more than 50 years -- then stole second. In the eighth, he worked a full-count walk against Chapman.
Mark Trumbo followed his teammate up with a strikeout each time and Trout never scored, but nobody on the American League did. The Tigers' Justin Verlander was racked for five runs in the first inning and the National League rolled from there, notching an 8-0 victory that gave it three straight wins, the first shutout over the Junior Circuit since 1996 and World Series home-field advantage.
Trout didn't enter until the sixth and got only two plate appearances, but he didn't leave Kansas City without accomplishing a little history. With that base hit up the middle, Trout -- 20 years, 338 days old -- became the youngest player to record a hit in the All-Star Game since Detroit Hall of Famer Al Kaline in 1955, and third-youngest overall.
Before that, he had never even seen a knuckleball.
"Nothing he does surprises me now," said Angels ace Jered Weaver, who gave up only a walk to Bryce Harper while pitching a scoreless fifth inning. "He's pretty good. I can only say he's good so many times."
"He's a special player," Dickey added. "He's going to be special for a long time."
Trout was a unique blend of surprised, intrigued and impressed when he stood in the on-deck circle and saw Dickey floating knuckleballs as he prepared for his first All-Star Game at-bat. But he wasn't nervous.
Until he made eye contact with his boyhood idol, Derek Jeter.
"I was feeling pretty good, and I looked in the dugout and Jeter started, like, pumping his chest," Trout recalled. "I didn't know what he was talking about, but he was like, 'You nervous?' I started looking around, and then my heart started pumping a little bit."
Walking up to the plate, though, he reminded himself to stay short and not go outside himself -- the same strategy that helped him go from a mediocre first year in the big leagues in 2011 to an MVP-like one in 2012. He knew he'd be taking one pitch regardless, so he did for a first-pitch strike. Then he saw a knuckler float high and stay toward the middle of the plate, and simply guided it right back up the middle.
Just the icing on the cake for a memorable All-Star Game.
"When I was watching Trumbo's at-bat, he was throwing some crazy ones," Trout said of Dickey. "I was just standing on second base and watching the show because those balls were just dropping, sinking, rising.
"It was fun to be a part of this game and represent the Angels and have a chance to face the tough pitchers in the game."
Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Gonzo and "The Show", and follow him on Twitter @Alden_Gonzalez. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.