MIAMI-Every Futures Game leaves a memory.
It can be a young Angels outfielder introducing himself to the world a couple of years before everyone else caught up on the greatness of Mike Trout.
This year, the U.S. got its revenge, as a well-rounded lineup pounded hit after hit in the early innings, then hung on for a 7-6 win.
But this game didn't have one or two players who took the game and made it theirs. Rays righthander and U.S. starting pitcher Brent Honeywell came the closest. He was named the game's MVP after striking out four in two scoreless innings of work.
When it comes to memories, a game with no one clear star reminded us more than anything that baseball is in very good hands when it comes to young talent.
Honeywell showed his five pitches in two electric innings; White Sox righthander Michael Kopech blew hitters away with a lively, easy 100-plus mph fastball; Braves center fielder Ronald Acuna got to display his plus arm.
And Blue Jays third baseman Vladimir Guerrero Jr., the youngest player in the game, looked very much at ease, finishing as one of just three players to get two hits. Guerrero turned around 99 mph from Orioles lefthander Tanner Scott and made it look easy.
The crisply played game was not lacking for standout efforts. They were just spread around the park.
In many ways, this Futures Game was a perfect representation of where the game is in 2017. Almost every pitcher threw really hard. On Sunday, a pitcher throwing 95 mph was routine. There were 19 fastballs thrown at 100 mph or harder and 39 pitches of 99 and up. There were just nine fastballs all game clocked at less than 93 mph.
I don't think I saw a pitch under 93, fastball-wise" Rockies infielder Ryan McMahon said. “That's what our game is becoming."
But Sunday’s game also lacked the power that is so much part of modern baseball. There were no home runs. Orioles catcher Chance Sisco provided the game's only triple. While there were plenty of hits (19 between the two teams), most were singles.
The U.S. was wise to get its licks in early. Reds third baseman Nick Senzel had an RBI single in the first, and Sisco's RBI triple and a Brendan Rodgers (Rockies) sacrifice fly added two more runs in the second. An RBI double from Astros outfielder Kyle Tucker gave the U.S. another run in the third and back-to-back doubles by Lewis Brinson (Brewers) and Derek Fisher (Astros) widened the lead to 7-0 in the fourth.
But just when the game seemed to be getting out of hand, the U.S. stopped hitting and the World's very potent lineup began to battle back.
Padres first baseman Josh Naylor drove in Guerrero Jr. for the World's first run in the fifth. A double from Brewers infielder Mauricio Dubon was the key hit in a two-run sixth and Mets catcher Tomas Nido drove in Guerrero Jr. for another run in the seventh.
The game remained 7-4 until the top of the ninth. Astros first baseman Yordan Alvarez singled in Yankees outfielder Estevan Florial to cut the lead to two and Nido then drove in Alvarez with another single to bring the go-ahead run to the plate for the World. But Dubon grounded out to strand Nido and end the game.
The win means U.S. leads the series 12-7.
For the players involved the final score won't be a key memory for them. It's going to be more elemental. Diamondbacks righthander Jon Duplantier's performance wasn't one to remember. He gave up two hits, a walk and a run in one third of an inning.
But after the game, he was smiling as he relayed the shared respect that he will remember.
“The first two guys I see are Vladdy (Guerrero Jr.) and Alvarez,” said Duplantier, who had faced them both in the low Class A Midwest League. “First pitch, Vladdy jumps on it . . . I should have known. That's the last first-pitch fastball he'll ever get from me. He gets on, broken-bat up the middle. He gets to first, I look at him and give him a smile and he looks back at me like 'Oops, my bad.'
“Alvarez gets in the box. I've never done this before. But just out of instinct, we looked at each other and we both nodded our heads at the same time out of mutual respect. That guy is a good hitter. He is a great hitter. We go our separate ways (Duplantier has moved up to the California League and Alvarez has been promoted to the Carolina League) all over the country and all of a sudden we meet back on a big league field in a big league atmosphere."