Seeing (no) stars
Mark Buehrle, Ted Lilly only Chicago representatives at All-Star Game
In the early teens of a wildly entertaining fifth set during the Wimbledon final between Roger Federer and Andy Roddick, my TV went black.
I was sitting in the small cafeteria at Wrigley Field an hour and a half before Sunday's game began, watching the match between bites of scrambled eggs, when someone turned the channel.
"What the " I yelled as I looked back to see one of the kitchen workers turning the channel at the behest of another writer, who desperately wanted to watch the All-Star starters announcements on TBS.
I could try to think of something more futile than a Chicago baseball reporter watching All-Star Game selections as we hit the midpoint of the No-Star Summer of '09. But that would take an amazing display of mental gymnastics, and quite frankly, there isn't enough coffee in Colombia to give me the necessary jolt.
Come to think of it, maybe a Cubs mental gymnastics meet would be more entertaining TV than watching a passel of ex-major leaguers debate the worthiness of Yadier Molina.
Said event could include a sad-sack Cubs fan trying to convince himself that dumping Mark DeRosa was a good move, and a big-pocketed Cubs fan trying to persuade his wife that those expensive Chicago Board of Exchange season seats were a good deal, because they include World Series options.
Or maybe it could include Lou Piniella trying to convince anyone, including himself, that we should be talking about All-Stars at all in a city where the managers' sound bites are a bigger draw than the on-field action.
Before the game, Piniella had to stretch the truth a bit when discussing possible All-Stars, even mentioning closer Kevin Gregg to give his club more options. Needless to say, Gregg (with 14 saves in 17 opportunities) doesn't have to make travel plans to St. Louis, and unless there is a spate of injuries forthcoming, his colleagues on both sides of town don't either.
If there weren't an archaic rule demanding each team have a selection -- they should call it the Three Rivers Rule in honor of the Pirates, who have sent such luminaries as Ed Sprague in 1999 and Mike Williams and his 6.29 ERA in 2003 -- it would be easy to picture neither Chicago team sending a representative to the game. As it turned out, Ted Lilly was named the "honorary" Cub.
"I'm excited and I'm looking forward to it," Lilly said on Sunday, after throwing a sharp 6 1/3 innings to improve to 8-6 as the Cubs beat the Brewers 8-2. "I hope I get an opportunity to pitch in it. That would be fun too. Maybe we'll win so the Cubs can get some home-field advantage in the World Series."
Yes, Lilly actually said that. But let the record show he was stifling a giggle.
Fellow lefty Mark Buehrle got the nod from Guillen's team, which dropped its last two in Kansas City. I was so sure that these two steady veterans were the only possible choices, and both deserving, I started writing this before the teams were announced.
But even then, Buerhle and Lilly were manager selections, which meant their fellow players weren't tripping all over themselves to ensure their candidacy. Fans, of course, don't vote for pitchers. In truth, there were only a handful of other Chicago players even deserving idle conversation.
Cubs first baseman Derrek Lee certainly has All-Star numbers (.285 average, 15 homers, 51 RBIs), but he's really just caught fire recently, hitting four homers in his past five games. He's blocked by two more deserving first basemen in Adrian Gonzalez and Prince Fielder, though one could argue he's been better than Ryan Howard.
"I never felt like I deserved it," Lee said. "There are some first basemen having great years."
For the Sox, who placed two in the game last season, there were old steady veterans like Jermaine Dye, Paul Konerko and Matt Thornton, with the latter the best option to help the AL shut down a plethora of left-handed hitters, and a wild card in Scott Podsednik.
Since the AL has won 12 straight, I'm not sure Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon was too worried about situational pitching with Thornton, or a speedy singles hitter in Scotty Pods. (MLB.com, which treats the All-Star Game as earth-shattering news, noted that the NL's motto should be "This time it's personal," as if the last dozen games were just business.)
Lilly, an All-Star in 2004 for Toronto, has been the Cubs' most dependable starter this season, and his record should be better than 8-6, given the team's well-documented hitting problems. The fan favorite, who has attained Chuck Norris type notoriety among bloggers for his intense mien, has a 3.32 ERA and had only walked 23 batters in 111 innings. He's the first Cubs left-handed starter to be selected to the game since Dick Ellsworth in 1964, which probably says more about the Cubs than it does of Lilly's magical left arm.
"We told him before the game and he went out and pitched like an All-Star," Piniella said. "Teddy's done a really nice job in the first half for us."
The laid-back Buehrle made his fourth All-Star team, and he'll have the joy of playing near his hometown of St. Charles, Mo. The Sox lefty has made no secret of his desire to play in St. Louis before he retires to a nearby deer stand. Buehrle is certainly deserving of the honor, going 8-2 with a 3.09 ERA.
Alfonso Soriano was the only position player in spitting distance of being voted in. He had a great April but has been in such a lousy funk that when Cubs.com tried to tout his candidacy in fan voting again last week, fans flooded the comment section to boo the very thought of Soriano representing their team on a national stage.
Both teams are playing good baseball right now, so you can't really say either one is dreaming of a reboot at the break. But surely both would like to see their teams come back with a sharper focus on competing for easily attainable division titles.
The Sox will get 2008 All-Star Carlos Quentin back soon, which pushes first-half MVP Podsednik from left to center. That defensively challenged outfield will outhit its deficiencies.
Reed Johnson and first-month All-Star Aramis Ramirez are scheduled to come off the disabled list Monday, which is a major boost to the Cubs' fortunes. Ramirez, if you can remember as far back as early May, was hitting .364 with 16 RBIs in 18 games when he went down with a separated shoulder in Milwaukee on May 9.
And that's not the hope for the future while you count down the days until you can see Lilly and Buehrle pitch in Pujolsville. The Cubs and Sox have far better numbers in the myriad minor league All-Star games, with each team placing six players in the Double-A Southern League game.