With five representatives, the 2019 Dodgers will be omnipresent at the All-Star Game in Cleveland. Prospective NL MVP Cody Bellinger will patrol the outfield as a starter, and deservedly so. But the one who will command the most special spotlight is Hyun-Jin Ryu. After years of injuries obfuscating his peerless craft on the mound, Ryu has put it all together to be the best pitcher in baseball this season. It’s his first ASG selection, and one that feels like it should be just his latest.
As we prepare to watch our Korean Son kick off one of baseball’s flagship events, let’s take a look back at every other Dodger pitcher to start an All-Star Game. Given the Dodgers’ superlative pitching tradition, Ryu thus joins a prestigious list.
Ralph Branca (1948)
For many, mentioning Ralph Branca’s name evokes one thing: giving up Bobby Thomson’s “Shot Heard ‘Round the World.” Which is unfortunate, because he truthfully was one of Brooklyn’s best pitchers during the franchise’s first consistent run of World Series appearances. He was an All-Star three straight years in 1947, 1948 and 1949. While the Dodgers missed the postseason in ‘48, he did get to start the ASG, throwing three innings and three strikeouts. However, he also gave up two runs, although he wasn’t the losing pitcher in the AL’s 5-2 victory.
Johnny Podres (1962)
Despite being the first ever World Series MVP, for the first Dodgers’ championship ever, Johnny Podres seems to be often overshadowed in discussions about their best pitchers. He certainly deserves to be recognized more, as he had the distinction of dominating both at the tail end in Brooklyn and for the nascent Los Angeles teams. In 1962, just 10 days after Drysdale started the first ASG that year, Podres kicked off the second one with two scoreless innings.
Sandy Koufax (1966)
One may be surprised to learn that this was Sandy Koufax’s only start in his seven All-Star selections. He made the most of it, allowing just one run in three solid innings in the NL’s eventual 10-inning walk-off win. Strangely, he only managed a solitary strikeout, of AL starting pitcher Denny McLain.
As it turned out, Koufax’s strong start in this game would be his last All-Star appearance. After the Dodgers’ shocking loss to the Baltimore Orioles in the World Series that October, he retired at the age of 30, bringing a bountiful era for the franchise to an abrupt end.
Don Drysdale (1959, 1962, 1964, 1968)
While Sandy Koufax was arguably the best pitcher of the ‘60s, it was his right-handed companion Don Drysdale who enjoyed multiple All-Star Game starts. The first one in 1959 was unique in that he started two All-Star Games, during the brief period when MLB had a second game to raise money for players’ pensions.
Out of all of Drysdale’s starts, 1968 was his finest. Just a month removed for his record-setting scoreless inning streak, he allowed just one hit in three shutout innings at the Astrodome. It was all he and the NL needed as Willie McCovey’s sole RBI gave him and the league a 1-0 win. It was also a final hurrah for the Hall of Fame righty, as he retired in 1969.
Andy Messersmith (1974)
1974 was a regal year for the Los Angeles Dodgers, winning a then L.A.-record 102 games and going to the World Series for the first time in eight years. Their superb pitching staff was led by Andy Messersmith, who finished the year with a league-leading 20 wins. Thus, he started the action at Three Rivers Stadium, with three innings and four strikeouts. While allowing two runs, the NL offense picked up 7 for a resounding win. Fellow Dodger Steve Garvey took home MVP honors for the game with two hits and an RBI.
Don Sutton (1977)
Three years after Messersmith coronated the All-Star Game, it was Don Sutton’s turn at Yankee Stadium in 1977. The National League jumped out to a 4-0 lead in the first, and the Hall of Famer cruised to three shutout innings. Allowing just one hit and one walk, he struck out four, including the likes of Carlton Fisk and Willie Randolph. Sutton won MVP honors for the game, which the NL held on to win 7-5. The only downside is that the Dodgers weren’t able to overcome the Yankees at the same park that October.
Fernando Valenzuela (1981)
In a season where he notched multiple scoreless inning streaks, won a World Series, and sparked one of the greatest cultural moments in MLB history, being an All-Star seems almost like an afterthought in remembering “Fernandomania.” He only pitched one inning, giving up two hits but no runs. It was still crucial to a 5-4 National League triumph, but it was just one of many supreme moments in one of the elite rookie seasons MLB has ever witnessed.
Hideo Nomo (1995)
While not the first Japanese player in MLB history (that would be Masanori Murakami of the Giants in 1964), Hideo Nomo changed the game just as decisively when he pitched for the Dodgers in 1995. The first player to permanently leave Japan for MLB, his sterling rookie season in ‘95 is considered to have set the stage for the influx of Japanese players in the 2000s. He went 13-6 with a 2.54 ERA, leading the league in shutouts (3) and strikeouts (236).
Nomo coronated his groundbreaking Rookie of the Year season by starting for the NL at the Ballpark in Arlington on July 11, 1995. Displaying his long stretch and windup in front of his biggest audience yet, he pitched two scoreless innings, allowing just one hit and victimizing Kenny Lofton, Edgar Martinez and Albert Belle for K’s.
The NL would rally late for a come-from-behind 3-2 win, meaning Nomo didn’t get the decision. But his clean start was a crowning moment in a season that soon changed MLB forever.
Brad Penny (2006)
Memories of the 2006 Dodgers are dominated by the Ethier/Kemp/Loney/Martin rookie corps, and the unmatched drama of the 4+1 game in September. Thus, it’s easy to forget about the starting pitching, which, while not as spectacular as the 2019 rotation, was solid enough to get to the playoffs. Derek Lowe and Brad Penny both won 16 games, tying for the most in the National League.
It was Penny who got the ASG nod, and he vindicated it with two innings to start the game at PNC Park in Pittsburgh. Despite coughing up a run, he had an incredible first inning by striking out the side against Ichiro Suzuki, Derek Jeter and David Ortiz. However, the American League would rally off Trevor Hoffman in the ninth for a 3-2 victory.
Zack Greinke (2015)
In what turned out to be his final year as a Dodger, Zack Greinke was historically supreme. His 1.66 ERA was the best in baseball, and second best in franchise history. At 19-3, his .864 W-L% stood atop all of MLB, as did his 0.844 WHIP and 222 ERA+. To tie it all together, he amassed the longest Dodger scoreless inning streak since Orel Hershiser’s record-setting 1988 run.
Thus, he was an absolute given to commence the festivities in Cincinnati on July 14. While allowing a run, Greinke nonetheless pitched true to form with four strikeouts in two innings. Albert Pujols, Nelson Cruz, Adam Jones, and Salvador Perez (the eventual World Series MVP that year) were all rung up. However, the AL would triumph, giving WS home field advantage to the DH league once again.
Hyun-Jin Ryu will be joining brilliant company in Dodger lore.