NEW YORK -- This might be the All-Star break, but it didn't put a pause in Jason Kipnis' sensational surge at the plate.
Kipnis made the most of his All-Star moment Tuesday night at a sold-out Citi Field. Selected to the game for the first time in his career and brought in off the bench in the late innings, Kipnis ripped an RBI double off Atlanta closer Craig Kimbrel to pad the American League lead in a 3-0 victory over the NL in the 84th Midsummer Classic.
"Not only to get to play in it but to do something like that?" Kipnis said. "This is fun for me."
What, you expected the guy with a .397 average dating back to June 5 to suddenly cool off? Not in the 90-degree heat of Queens, and certainly not with the whole world watching.
Kipnis wanted not just to soak up this moment but to shine, and being here, representing a team and a town, he felt a newfound sense of belonging in one of baseball's most special fraternities.
"It's one thing to look at yourself and say your stats compare to the others," Kipnis said. "But once you get peer recognition, once you get in front of guys who you've only played against a couple times but they know your face and call you by your name, you start to realize, 'Hey, I kind of do fit in here, I do belong.'"
Kipnis proved it. His teammate Justin Masterson, meanwhile, didn't get that chance. AL manager Jim Leyland used starters Max Scherzer, Chris Sale, Felix Hernandez and Matt Moore, then dipped into his deep crew of relievers, leaving Masterson waiting in the wings.
No worries, though, for Masterson knew all along that being here at the Midsummer Classic was more important than actually being in it.
"I think, by default, by being a part of this, you gain a little more respect in the eyes of everyone around the league, around the world, whatever it may be," he said. "Just like Terry Francona has won a couple World Series, so by default he's going to get a lot of respect for that. This isn't a World Series, obviously, but for us to be in this situation, we're a part of the great players of this first half, this season, and it's a big deal."
Indeed, though they got a grab bag of expensive gifts and gear, hearty applause from the masses assembled along 42nd Street to scope out the All-Star parade and a multitude of memories from fraternizing with some of the Major Leagues' best and brightest, the overall recognition was what really resonated for the Tribe duo.
"I definitely grew up watching these games," Kipnis said. "To experience it now and see the behind-the-scenes is a neat transition."
Kipnis, it seems, will transition seamlessly into the ceremonial second half, if that clutch double is any indication.
The AL roster had four second basemen, so there was some question as to whether Kipnis would even get to step onto the field. But he moved up in the pecking order when AL starter Robinson Cano was plunked by a Matt Harvey pitch in the first inning and wound up coming out of the game. Dustin Pedroia replaced Cano, and Kipnis replaced Pedroia in the field in the seventh. It was in the eighth when Kipnis got to play a part in the game's signature moment -- Mariano Rivera's 1-2-3 inning that earned him the All-Star Game MVP. Kipnis made the play for the first out on a grounder by righty-swinging Jean Segura.
"Almost for a second you kind of just want to watch," Kipnis joked. "You kind of hope you don't have any balls hit to you. But with him throwing that cutter and guys slapping it the other way, you figured one might be coming your way. I'm just happy I made the play on this one."
Kipnis' double also came in the eighth. Facing the hard-throwing Kimbrel, he was looking fastball, and he got one in a 1-1 count. The double put a fine finishing touch on the AL's offensive output on a night in which the Junior Circuit ended a three-year All-Star losing streak. So now home-field advantage goes to the winner of the ALCS, and Kipnis certainly hopes the Tribe benefits from that arrangement.
"We like where we're at right now," Kipnis said. "We're a game and a half out [trailing the Tigers] even though we went 4-18 at one point during the season."
They climbed back into contention after that rut in large part because the 26-year-old Kipnis led the way on the offensive end.
"He's been able to carry the load and kind of take that burden for our offense," Masterson said. "That has been incredible to see. He takes that with open arms and does a great job with it. That is why he is an incredible player."
On this night, a national audience got to see that. It's funny, too, because earlier in the day an MLB volunteer helping out at the event told Kipnis, "It's an honor to have you here, Mr. Swisher."
Next time, it's doubtful that mistake will be made.