Elias Diaz might be the most unlikely All-Star Game MVP.
Just three and a half years after Pittsburgh did not offer him a contract and allowed him to become a free agent, Díaz hit a go-ahead, two-run homer off Félix Bautista in the eighth inning to lift the National League over the American 3-2. On tuesday night.
A first-time All-Star at 32, the Colorado catcher put his name on an award won by Willie Mays, Joe Morgan, Frank and Brooks Robinson, both Ken Griffeys and Mike Trout.
“I honestly can’t believe my name is going to be next to some of those names,” Diaz said through a translator, clutching the crystal bat awarded to him by MVP. “Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine that I would be in this position.”
After five years with the Pirates, Díaz learned from his agent in December 2019 that he had not been drafted.
“When they released me, I didn’t allow myself to feel defeated,” Diaz said. “I kept my confidence and stayed positive.”
He earned a minor league contract with the Rockies a month later, made the major league roster at the start of the pandemic-delayed 2020 season, and earned a $1.2 million major league contract for 2021. He hit .246 with 18 home runs and 44 RBIs, and Colorado rewarded him with a three-year, $14.5 million contract.
Diaz hit .228 with nine home runs and 51 RBI last year, then earned his first All-Star trip by hitting .277 with nine home runs and 45 RBI before the break this year.
“He’s really improved in every phase of his game,” National League manager Rob Thomson said of the Philadelphia Phillies.
Thomson had called Rockies manager Bud Black to meet Diaz.
“He said, ‘This is one of the best people you’ll ever meet. She’s a complete team player,'” Thomson recounted. “`Do what you want. If he doesn’t play, he’s fine. If he plays, he would be great. He’s just happy to be there.’”
With the AL leading 2–1, Nick Castellanos drew a nine-pitch walk against Bautista leading off the eighth. Diaz batted for Jorge Soler and on a 2-2 count drove a 360-foot splitter, where he landed under the manual marker behind the left-field wall. The 20th pinch-hit home run in All-Star Game history was undoubtedly a series. Diaz took three small steps and looked before starting his trot.
“A splitter who stayed up in the zone,” said Bautista, who had allowed one home run in 56 at-bats this season ending on that pitch.
Díaz jumped as he approached the bench and exchanged slaps with his teammates. Geraldo Perdomo sprayed him with water. Shortly thereafter, he became the first Venezuelan to win the All-Star MVP since Dave Concepción in 1972. Díaz’s jersey will go into the Hall of Fame.
“Maybe in the third or fourth inning, Orlando Arcia, he was telling me, ‘Hey, you’re going to come up to bat, you’re going to hit a home run and you’re going to win MVP.’ Diaz recalled. “I didn’t think he was going to become all this” ..