None of the Nationals’ All-Star selections was a particular surprise. Bryce Harper had been in solid position to be voted in as a starter for weeks. Daniel Murphy and Wilson Ramos looked unlikely to win the fan vote, but were shoo-ins to be selected based on their robust numbers. And Stephen Strasburg, as long as he was healthy, was a safe bet to return to his hometown of San Diego to pitch in the game.
But the official announcement of All-Star rosters remains a significant moment for everyone involved, and so there was no shortage of grateful appreciation and genuine emotion emerging from the Nationals clubhouse tonight, even after a second straight lackluster loss to the Brewers.
“It’s awesome,” said Harper, who will be a starting outfielder for the third time in the last four years after garnering more than 2.8 million votes. “Just want to thank the fans for sure, all across the country, and definitely all the Nats fans, for getting me in there. I think it’s gonna be a lot of fun. Just gonna enjoy it with the family and just really enjoy those couple days.”
Harper will be making his fourth overall All-Star appearance. Murphy and Strasburg are each going for the second time. Thus, Ramos is the lone first-timer, making the 28-year-old catcher the feel-good story of the clubhouse tonight.
“Oh, yeah, this is really special for him,” manager Dusty Baker said. “He doesn’t say much, but his facial expressions show that he was extremely happy to be going to this All-Star Game. He’s come a long ways and he’s worked hard. ... You like to see a guy rewarded for his hard work.”
Baseball’s top offensive catcher through the season’s first half with a .335 batting average, 13 homers, 46 RBIs and a .944 OPS, Ramos was thrilled to learn of his selection earlier in the day, the culmination of a six-year career that had included several major injuries and other off-the-field challenges but now has been validated with his all-around performance.
“I’m very, very excited about the opportunity to represent the Nationals,” Ramos said via interpreter Octavio Martinez. “Throughout my career, I’ve had some real bad luck, so it’s very exciting to finally get this announcement.”
Teammates were most pleased for Ramos, recognizing the manner in which he has broken through this season with an improved eye at the plate, thanks in part to LASIK surgery performed during spring training.
“What an eye,” Harper said. “I think being able to get his eyes checked and get ‘em done has helped a lot. You hear all these things about when he was with the Twins (before his trade to Washington for reliever Matt Capps in 2010) and whatnot: One of the best hitting prospects to come along. What an amazing teammate behind the dish and at the plate. It’s incredible the way he’s put it together this year. What a tool that we have back there. Lot of fun to watch.”
Ramos finished a distant third in fan voting among catchers, trailing starter Buster Posey by roughly 300,000 votes and second-place finisher Yadier Molina by about 200,000 votes. Murphy, on the other hand, was victim to one of the closest elections in All-Star history, coming just 88 votes shy of winner Ben Zobrist, with each second baseman earning more than 3 million votes.
In mathematical terms, the difference between Zobrist and Murphy was .0014 percent. There are no recounts in this election, and Murphy wasn’t pleading for one anyway.
“This is a tough league, and being an All-Star is humbling,” said Murphy, who previously made it as a reserve for the Mets in 2014. “I’m excited for it. And Ben Zobrist - if he’s the starter, from what it sounds like - is having a fantastic year, and he’s well-deserving.”
Both Ramos and Murphy were selected by their fellow players in voting conducted in the last two weeks. Strasburg, meanwhile, was selected by National League manager Terry Collins, who in his regular job as Mets skipper has seen firsthand how dominant the right-hander has been through the season’s first half: 11-0 with a 2.71 ERA and a 123-to-28 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
Strasburg was not made available to reporters following tonight’s game, the lone Nationals All-Star who will be waiting until Wednesday to speak publicly about his selection. His fellow No. 1 draft pick happily stumped for him, though, making the case for Strasburg to get the ball in the first inning at Petco Park over such big-name NL pitchers as Jake Arrieta, Noah Syndergaard, Madison Bumgarner and Johnny Cueto.
“I hope he gets that start,” Harper said. “I think he deserves it, being 11-0, hopefully 12-0 before he gets there. That’s huge. Going home to San Diego, of course, being able to throw in front of his hometown, that’d be awesome, as well.”
Harper did reiterate what he has said in the past: He will not participate in the Home Run Derby. After finishing runner-up to Yoenis Cespedes at Citi Field in New York in 2013, he has abstained from the annual All-Star event. And he’ll continue to sit it out for the foreseeable future.
“I just don’t want to, plain and simple,” Harper said. “I just don’t really want to do it. I just want to enjoy my time, sit on the side and watch it a little bit. I enjoyed watching (Todd) Frazier win it last year, and I just don’t feel like doing it. I don’t even know if I’m going to do it next year, or the next or any other time ever. I just don’t feel like doing it. ... It’s a fun event, but I don’t know, I just don’t care for it.”