FORT WAYNE, Ind. - On a night that brought 62 of the Midwest League's best players together for the All-Star Game, the seven selected to represent the Great Lakes Loons made their presence known by leading the Eastern team to the 6-2 victory.
Leading off for the East was Loons shortstop Christian Lara, who won the All-Star skills competition the night before. Lara predicted that he would get at least one hit, and the eighth-year pro did that and more, starting the game with a leadoff single before finishing the night 2-for-3 with two runs.
Still in the first inning, Loons slugger and starting first baseman Jerry Sands stepped up to the plate against Peoria's pitcher Kenneth McNutt (6-0, 1.51), with a runner on second and one out.
Though the .333-hitter only managed two home runs in the Derby on Monday night and didn't qualify for the second round, Sands didn't waste any time on Tuesday, taking McNutt's first pitch over the opposite field wall for the All-Star Game's only home run.
"I didn't have a great showing last night [at the Home Run Derby], but it's not a big deal to me, because I'd rather do it in the game," he said. "The way I was hitting last night, I didn't know if [my hit off McNutt] was getting out or not."
The ball did 'get out' and scored two runs for the East, giving them a 3-0 lead and momentum going forward into the night.
"It was definitely a fun start to get a little tempo going for the team and get to get a few runs on the board early," Sands said.
Sands was one of the few All-Stars to play the whole nine innings, manning first base for the East, and finished the night with one hit in two at-bats, one run, one home run, two RBI, two walks, and a game-high four total bases.
At the end of the night, Jerry Sands was named the MiLB.com Top Star Most Valuable Player for his impressive performance Tuesday in front of 6,026 fans in attendance at Parkview Field.
"It's an honor," Sands said after the game. "I mean it's one of the top awards I've ever received, especially with the talent and people present in both dugouts. It's definitely a big award."
Though Sands dominated, his Loons teammates also shined.
Starting pitcher Will Savage (6-2, 2.80) was the next to take the field and make his All-Star highlight, coming in to pitch in the top of the second inning. The California-native did his job for the East by retiring the side: pitching both Quad Cities' Matt Adams (.281) and Wisconsin's Khris Davis (.292) into groundouts [both 6-3, Lara-Sands], before concluding the inning by striking out Clinton's Vincent Catricala (.290).
The Loons second pitcher to mount the All-Star rubber was 20-year-old Allen Webster (6-5, 3.11). The right-hander issued one walk to begin the fourth inning, but kept his batters hitless: having Cedar Rapids' Mike Trout (.370) ground into a forceout and Adams into a double-play [6-4-3, Lara-Rodriguez-Sands].
The team's reserve players Rafael Ynoa and Angelo Songco combined to go 0-for-3 at the plate with one RBI.
"I think Great Lakes as a team had a great showing out there today," Sands said. "Just our whole East squad meshed together pretty well. We're a good group of guys that all work together well and had a pretty good ball game."
The Loons final All-Star to make his appearance Tuesday night was the team's closer Luis Vasquez, who had 13 saves in the first-half with a 1.78 ERA.
Vasquez was called on to pitch in the top of the ninth inning with the East leading 6-1, giving the 24-year-old Dominican a big enough cushion to just have fun in the moment.
"I wasn't really focused about runs and that stuff," Vasquez said. "All the guys told me to just go out there and throw as hard as I can. They said 'try to get 100' and that's what I tried today. I was just having fun."
Vasquez's has been known to reach 100 mph with his fastball, but was unable to find the desired speed at the All-Star Game, though he still threw 97. He got into a little trouble and allowed the West another run, but Vasquez pitched Quad Cities' D'Marcus Ingram (.333) into a groundout [3, Sands unassisted] to secure the East's All-Star victory.