MIAMI — Robinson Cano is still a very good player, even if it seems he has disappeared over the last four seasons.
The Seattle Mariners second baseman showed Tuesday night he is alive and well as his solo home run in top of the 10th inning off Chicago Cubs closer Wade Davis lifted the American League to a 2-1 victory over the National League in the All-Star Game at Marlins Park.
Cano was named the Most Valuable Player for his game-winning shot. It turned out to be a pretty good night for a guy who was unsure he would play because he did not know the rule stipulating the league winning the All-Star Game gained home-field advantage in that season’s World Series was eliminated in December as part of the new collective bargaining agreement.
“I remember that I tell my dad, I’m not picked (as a starter by the fans), so if I play, it’s great. If not …,” Cano said. “When I found out the rule changed, I said I might get an at-bat now that the game doesn’t mean anything.
“I really honestly like this way because you are able now to joke around, make the game more fun, like the way it used to be before.”
It used to be that Cano, who was making the eighth All-Star Game appearance of his 13-year career, was one of the higher profile players in the game. That changed after signing with the Mariners as a free agent in the 2013-14 offseason.
Granted, Cano’s bank account got much larger when he agreed to a 10-year, $240 million contract. Yet he also went from one of the most popular teams in professional sports to a franchise that hasn’t been to the postseason since 2001, the longest current drought in the major leagues.
However, that did not matter when Cano returned to the national spotlight for a night. Ironically, he only wound up on the AL roster as an injury replacement for Starlin Castro, the New York Yankees’ current second baseman. The Houston Astros’ Jose Altuve was voted by the fans as the starter.
Cano, 33, is hitting .275/.332/.481 with 17 home runs in 79 games this season and .296/.352/.479 in 3½ years with Seattle. That is not too far off the .309/.355/.504 line he compiled in nine seasons with the Yankees from 2005-2013 that included seven postseason appearances and a World Series title in 2009.
Cano says he has no regrets about leaving the nation’s largest market for the Pacific Northwest. Yet he enjoyed his moment as the star of stars, comparing it to winning the All-Star Home Run Derby in 2011 at Chase Field in Phoenix.
“Winning MVP, you want to get that feeling,” Cano said. “I already got it once for the Home Run Derby. I want to have this feeling. All of them feels different. It feels great.”
The Mariners provided the evening’s two biggest highlights. The other came in the sixth inning when designated hitter Nelson Cruz paused before stepping into the batter’s box and pulled a cellphone from his back pocket.
Cruz then asked home plate umpire Joe West to pose for a picture, which National League catcher Yadier Molina of the St. Louis Cardinals obligingly snapped.
West is one of just three umpires to work at least 5,000 games in the major leagues.
“When else are you ever going to get a chance to take a picture with an umpire except at the All-Star Game?” the 37-year-old Cruz said with a smile. “He’s a legend but he’s not getting any younger and I’m not getting any younger. He always jokes with me about being old. This might have been my last chance to get a picture with him, so I took advantage of it.”
Cano enjoyed watching the moment from the AL dugout after being tipped off by Cruz prior to the game.
“That’s what people and fans love now these days, especially joking around with social media,” Cano said. “Everybody loved it.”