The fastball left Matt Harrison's hand. It was clocked at 93 mph, 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 final score was 8-0 but he was the best player on the field. He went 2 for 3 and earned the MVP 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 Giants, who voted him to start.
"I think the one person that has the most influence on me is the Lord," Cabrera said then. "He is the one that embraced me in terms of playing better."
On Wednesday, Major League Baseball suspended Cabrera for 50 games after he tested positive for testosterone, a banned substance. Cabrera acknowledged his guilt in a statement.
Harrison, a Texas Rangers left-hander, had to stand there and take it that night in Kansas City. 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.
"Anytime 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."
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 Giants trailed the Los Angeles Dodgers by one game in the National League West and have lost Cabrera for the rest of the regular season, plus the first five games of the playoffs, should they qualify. 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 New York Yankees and the Atlanta Braves.
The suspension dealt a crushing blow to a Giants lineup that just a day earlier had played its first game with a full stable of healthy bats.
"My positive test was the result of my use of a substance I should not have used," Cabrera, 28, said. "I accept my suspension under the Joint Drug Program and I will try to move on with my life."
The Giants will try to move on, too, but it won't be easy. Cabrera led the majors in hits (159) and multi-hit games (52) and was on pace for his second consecutive 200-hit season. He had 11 homers and 60 RBIs while starting 110 of 118 games.
Giants manager Bruce Bochy and general manager Brian Sabean addressed the team, telling it to look forward, according to several players. That's a familiar motto for a team that dealt with Buster Posey's season-ending injury a year ago and lost closer Brian Wilson to Tommy John surgery less than two weeks into this season.
"Every team, whether it's injuries or whatnot, you're going to lose guys," Posey said. "We have to approach the rest of the year with a chip on our shoulders."
Cabrera seemed to play that way the past two years, overcoming a terrible 2010 season with the Atlanta Braves. He hit just .255 with four homers that year, but he turned his career around last season in Kansas City, finishing with 201 hits, 18 homers and a .305 average. Cabrera and those close to him insisted that the turnaround was the result of Cabrera getting into proper shape.
Cabrera was a popular player in the Giants clubhouse and often could be seen taking early batting practice with fellow outfielders Angel Pagan and Gregor Blanco. He was just as well liked by the fan base, which embraced Cabrera for his prolific production and occasional shows of on-field swagger.
Cabrera inspired a "MelkMen" craze at AT&T Park, and the team was planning to have a T-shirt day Sept. 8.
"I am deeply sorry for my mistake," Cabrera said in his statement, "And I apologize to my teammates, to the San Francisco Giants organization and to the fans for letting them down."
Within the clubhouse, the prevailing emotion was disappointment, rather than anger.
"Ultimately, it's just a bad decision, and that's all I'm really going to say about that," Posey said.
Cabrera is the second Giant to fail a drug test this year, joining right-hander Guillermo Mota, who tested positive for Clenbuterol in May. The Giants intend to activate Mota when his suspension is up Aug. 28, but it is unlikely that Cabrera would return to the Giants' lineup this season. Cabrera is eligible to return in the sixth postseason game, if the Giants make it that far, but he can't play his way into shape in the minors because the minor league season ends in September.
The Giants and Cabrera's agent shelved contract-extension talks in July, but the organization intended to try to lock him up after the season.
Now, Cabrera's future with the organization is as murky as his past suddenly is. Cabrera will forfeit upward of $1.6 million in salary this season.