Commentary

Bell's memorable night takes a bad turn

San Diego closer becomes latest Padres pitcher to leave All-Star Game with a loss

Originally Published: July 15, 2009
By Jorge Arangure Jr. | ESPN The Magazine

ST. LOUIS -- With the field crowded with pop stars, television celebrities -- and of course All-Stars -- during batting practice, Padres reliever Heath Bell grabbed his camera and began to take snapshots he could treasure for the rest of his life.

In one photo Bell stood by the home dugout, made a rock-star-horns gesture with his right hand and stuck out his tongue. He had asked the crowd behind him to do the same thing.

Bell does not lack confidence, but he knows baseball can be a fickle game, and who knows if he would ever be an All-Star ever again? So he did his best to remember every moment.

"I'm just a big fan of baseball," he said. "I'm a big kid at heart."

The week had almost been surreal. First, there had been the sweet surprise Sunday, when Bell found out that Brewers closer Trevor Hoffman -- Bell's mentor when the two played together in San Diego -- would replace injured Dodgers closer Jonathan Broxton on the National League roster.

Then on Monday, Bell sat on the field and watched teammate Adrian Gonzalez in the Home Run Derby. Tuesday brought the red-carpet entrance into Busch Stadium. And a few moments after batting practice ended, Bell would go back in the clubhouse and meet President Barack Obama.

To make sure Obama noticed him, Bell wore a T-shirt that read "I'm kind of a big deal."

Heath Bell
John Rieger/US PresswireHeath Bell missed having his trusty scouting reports available when facing unfamiliar American League hitters.

Then, of course, the game began and Bell would live an All-Star experience he surely will never forget. Photos won't be necessary.

With the game tied at 3-3 in the eighth inning, Bell was summoned from the bullpen by National League manager Charlie Manuel.

Despite all his excitement during the week, Bell carried a nagging fear of the unknown. During the regular season, Bell pores over Padres pitching coach Darren Balsley's scouting reports. Bell knows his pitches can be overpowering, but without knowing where to throw them, he's fairly defenseless. With the scouting reports, he knows when to throw a particular pitch and where to throw it.

At the All-Star Game, Bell didn't know a thing about the hitters he potentially could be facing, two in particular: Tigers outfielder Curtis Granderson and Baltimore outfielder Adam Jones.

He had never faced either, though Jones is a San Diego native. But as Bell quipped: "I live in Florida. Maybe I should move to San Diego."

With one out in the eighth, Bell threw Granderson a 1-0 sinker that was slammed to left-center field, over the head of Justin Upton. Granderson easily slid into third for a triple. Later, Bell would lament that he did not throw a down-and-away fastball in that situation.

After intentionally walking Victor Martinez, Bell faced Jones. On an 0-2 count, Bell threw Jones an 89 mph inside breaking ball that Jones hit for a sacrifice fly to right field. Later, Bell would lament he did not throw an up-and-away fastball.

It was only after the game that Bell could come up with an effective scouting report. He joked that he would never underestimate the value of Balsley again.

Bell ended up the losing pitcher in the National League's 4-3 loss to the AL. Padres pitchers (Hoffman 2006, Chris Young 2007) have carried home the loss in three of the past four All-Star games.

"Hey, I look at it as the Padres have gotten a decision in three of the last four All-Star games," Bell said. "I'm going to tell my kids that I had a decision in my first All-Star Game."

But even Bell's good humor couldn't hide his disappointment. After the eighth, Bell slammed his glove against the wall and kicked a door. He stood at his locker answering questions from reporters after the game, sometimes making jokes, but deep inside he worried that on a national level people would wonder whether Heath Bell belonged on the same field as Mariano Rivera. That's the fickle nature of baseball players. Confidence can easily drop like a sinker.

"I'm ticked off," Bell said. "I'm a little bummed. I'm not going to lie."

Hoffman, who had been similarly burned in the 2006 All-Star Game by blowing a save with two outs in the ninth, had simply patted Bell on the back after the loss. Hoffman didn't say much. Really, what could he have said?

"It's going to be a long night for him," Hoffman said. "But he should he proud of the fact that he's earned his way here. It's an experience he'll learn from. I think the important thing is not to put too much pressure on yourself. Your body of work will not be dictated by a single moment."

Bell said Tuesday's loss would motivate him for the rest of the season. He will work even harder to make sure he has a great second half, he said. Mostly he hoped he would be good enough to come back to the All-Star Game next season, where there would be more experiences, more memorable moments and, of course, more photos.

Jorge Arangure Jr. is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine. He can be contacted at jorge.arangure@espn3.com.