The fastball left Matt Harrison’s hand at 93 miles per hour, headed for the inner half of the plate, belt high. This was the All-Star Game, last month in Kansas City, and any hitter might have done what Melky Cabrera did to that pitch: lash it on a line into the left-field bullpen for a home run.
Cabrera alone did not win the game for the National League — the score was 8-0 — but he was the best player on the field. He went 2 for 3 and earned the Most Valuable Player award, a crystal bat named for Ted Williams. With his mother and grandmother by his side, Cabrera thanked the fans of Kansas City, where he played last season, and the fans of his new team, the San Francisco Giants, who voted him to start.
‘‘I think the one person that has the most influence on me is the Lord,’’ Cabrera said that night. ‘‘He is the one that embraced me in terms of playing better.’’
Harrison, a Rangers lefthander, had to stand there and take it. It was his first All-Star Game, too, a reward for a strong first half in which he bounced back from losing Game 7 of the World Series. That was a road game for the Rangers, in St. Louis, and they had hoped to secure home-field advantage this season with a victory in Kansas City. Not so.
On Wednesday, Major League Baseball suspended Cabrera for 50 games after he tested positive for testosterone, a banned substance. Cabrera acknowledged his guilt, apologizing for using a substance he should not have used.
‘‘Any time you hear about something like that, with someone that’s had success against you, it’s disappointing,’’ Harrison said Wednesday by his locker in the Rangers’ clubhouse at Yankee Stadium. ‘‘You know that they got a little advantage over you because of something they took. But at the same time, it’s over with now. You move on. That’s something he has to deal with. It’s not my issue.’’
Yes and no. If you follow baseball and care about it, and certainly if you play it, it is your issue, too.
The last generation is so stained by steroid use that three headliners on this winter’s Hall of Fame ballot — Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, and Sammy Sosa — are unlikely to be elected. So the career home run leader, the only seven-time Cy Young Award winner, and the only man with three 60-homer seasons would be left out of Cooperstown, at least initially, a searing indictment of the era.
The game has the power to amaze and inspire, to rise instantly above the bad news. Just hours after the Cabrera suspension came down Wednesday, Felix Hernandez tossed a perfect game under glorious Seattle sunshine. But the cheaters keep pulling baseball down.
‘‘You’re surprised, that goes without saying,’’ said Cabrera’s former teammate, the Yankees’ Derek Jeter. ‘‘That’s the initial reaction. You feel bad. You feel bad that you even have to be sitting here talking about it.’’
The Cabrera suspension, Jeter said, at least shows that the system works. And MLB, on some level, is certainly glad to have a clear victory after losing the Ryan Braun arbitration hearing this spring. Braun tested positive for testosterone after a playoff game in October, but he avoided a 50-game ban by challenging the collection procedure.
Still, Braun’s Brewers won that playoff series, and the next month he was named the National League MVP. Just as Harrison cannot go back in time to face a different hitter at the All-Star Game, the Diamondbacks must live with the outcome of a playoff series during which the other team’s star player hit .500 while testing positive for testosterone.
‘‘I’m sure they were pretty upset once they found out,’’ Harrison said. ‘‘He pretty much beat them himself in the playoffs.’’
Cabrera’s transgression, at least, will cost his own team. The Giants are tied for first place in the NL West and have lost Cabrera for the rest of the regular season, plus the first five games of the playoffs, should they qualify.
But Cabrera is entering free agency this offseason, and surely he has cost himself dearly. Nobody truly knows if Cabrera is an All-Star in peak physical condition, or the doughy bodied, rather ordinary player he was for the Yankees and Braves.
The Yankees’ Alex Rodriguez, who has admitted using steroids when he played for the Rangers, encouraged Cabrera to work out with him after the 2010 season. This is not unusual for Rodriguez, who has worked out with other young players, like the Royals’ Eric Hosmer and the Orioles’ Manny Machado, during offseasons in Miami.
The results were immediate for Cabrera, who had 201 hits for the Royals in 2011. Kansas City was unconvinced, trading Cabrera for pitcher Jonathan Sanchez, yet Cabrera seemed to cement his star status this season. His positive test, of course, makes you wonder how it really happened.
‘‘It’s not my job to sit here and speculate,’’ Rodriguez said. ‘‘I saw someone who had a great run with us. He was a huge part of our world championship year in ’09, had a down year in Atlanta and decided to take his career and work extremely hard, and I saw him do that. He had a great run.’’
That run is over now, or at least delayed, and Cabrera’s reputation will never be the same. Rodriguez said Cabrera was probably ‘‘sad and confused’’ now, but the confusion part is hard to believe. Just ask Cabrera’s victim at the All-Star Game.
“Everybody tries to have an edge, but that edge should be doing it the right way,’’ Harrison said. ‘‘Unfortunately, he wasn’t. I just don’t understand why you would take that chance when you know you’re going to get caught. I just don’t understand that.
‘‘I guess it’s all good and everything, until you get caught.’’