Bell’s slide may signal exit from National League
AP Sports Writer
PHOENIX (AP) – If Heath Bell is leaving the National League, he slid right out in style.
The San Diego closer made his usual sprint to the mound in the All-Star game Tuesday night, all 6-foot-3, 259 pounds of him, then made a picture-perfect pop-up slide into the rubber.
“I told some guys I wanted to have some fun this All-Star game and needed some ideas,” he explained, “so guys back home said slide on the mound.”
NL manager Bruce Bochy had reminded the players that this game had some meaning, with the winner getting home-field advantage in the World Series. Bochy should know, because home field was critical to his Giants winning it all last year. That made Bell reluctant to try his slide.
“I thought I was not going to do it,” he said, “but then we were up by four runs.”
Even as he was running, he was disinclined to go through with it. But finally, he told himself, “OK, I will do it.”
The closer, rumored to be on the trading block with contenders from both leagues eying him, has said he would prefer to stay put but understands it is a business.
“The folks in San Diego are used to me doing a lot of fun stuff,” he said. “I practice sliding a little bit behind the scenes so nobody can see it. I feel like I am athlete even though I am a pitcher and a non-athlete. I am a big guy but I can play.”
His stunt did not affect his performance. Bell, part of a series of powerful pitchers the NL used to shut down the AL 5-1, got the only batter he faced, Jhonny Peralta, to pop out to end the eighth inning.
Leave it to fellow strange closer Brian Wilson of San Francisco to critique Bell’s slide.
“He nailed it,” Wilson said.
BOCHY’S CARDS: The St. Louis Cardinals had a pair starters for the National League team, Matt Holliday in left field and Lance Berkman in right.
Unlike some of the other NL starters, they didn’t last long; Holliday was replaced by Houston’s Hunter Pence and Berkman by Arizona’s Justin Upton, both in the third inning.
A little Cardinals hating by NL manager Bruce Bochy?
Nah. That’s all either one wanted to play.
“I talked to both of them. I had the luxury of doing that because of the number of outfielders,” Bochy said. “Berkman even said, ‘You know what, I really would want some guys to go out there who haven’t played in the All-Star game.’ And I talked to Matt yesterday, and he said, ‘Yeah, three innings is good for me.’ So these are things we do talk about. It wasn’t something about the Cardinals; I sat down with most of the players and talked about the game plan.”
HUSTLING JOSE: Jose Bautista IS the Blue Jays, so when he went sliding into the wall to make a spectacular catch of a foul ball, Toronto manager John Farrell was understandably concerned – but not at all surprised.
“A sigh of relief as he got up and threw the ball back in,” said Farrell, who was part of AL manager Ron Washington’s staff. “But as we’ve seen from Jose, he’s all-out all the time, regardless of the setting or the game.”
Bautista raced to his right and slid into the wall as he caught Brian McCann’s foul ball to start the second inning.
“He certainly represented himself well and the Blue Jays well on that play,”‘ Farrell said. “It was an all-out, hustle play.”
Another hustle play didn’t turn out so well. After Adrian Gonzalez’s third-inning home run put the AL up 1-0, Bautista singled to shallow center. Josh Hamilton followed with a single and Bautista advanced to second. Then when Adrian Beltre singled to left-center, Bautista tried to score from second but was out easily on a throw from Hunter Pence to end what had the makings of a big inning.
“Certainly he’s not going to be held up, he’s going to force the issue,” Farrell said. “Pence made a heck of a throw, threw a strike, but much like we’ve seen all year, he (Bautista) played tonight like it was a regular-season game, and certainly there was something to play for tonight.”
GOING, GOING, GONE: A bat that Babe Ruth used to hit a 620-foot home run in an exhibition game at Sing Sing Prison in 1929 was sold at auction Tuesday for $126,500. The item was among several pieces of baseball memorabilia sold at MLB FanFest, part of the All-Star game celebrations, by Hunt Auctions. The bat had not been expected to sell for more than $100,000.
A Jackie Robinson professional model bat from his historic 1947 rookie season went for $97,750, far above the pre-sale estimates of $30,000 to $40,000. Two 1908 Chicago Cubs world champion pennants sold for $57,500. The pennants mark the Cubs’ last World Series title.
A baseball autographed by Ruth and Lou Gehrig, circa 1927, went for $33,350, and an autographed bat that Roberto Clemente used for his 2,999th hit sold for $51,750.
THE CHASE: Chase Field, initially known as Bank One Ballpark before it got swept up in a flurry of bank mergers, is the 52nd ballpark to host an All-Star game.
Phoenix became the 27th city to hold the game and the first since Colorado in 1998 to host the classic for the first time. The field was completed in 1998 after a campaign that became so inflamed that a disturbed individual wounded a city councilwoman with a gunshot to the backside.
In the previous 81 All-Star games, the American League had scored 340 runs and the National 339. Forty-six of those 81 games were decided by two runs or less. Twenty-six All-Star games have been decided by one run, including four of the last five years.
TROY’S HERE: Colorado’s Troy Tulowitzki would have seemed to be a good candidate to join the long list of those who sat out the All-Star game. The shortstop missed four games last week with a strained quadriceps before returning on Saturday. Even though he played in the two games before the break, he could have begged off to let his leg rest.
“Yeah, I thought about it,” he said before the National League’s 5-1 victory. “If I wasn’t healthy enough, you don’t want to come here hurt and further injure yourself for your team. It means a lot to be here. The fans obviously love this game. We love playing it. There’s not a better place to be right now.”
Tulowitzki, who was making the first All-Star start of his career, went 1 for 2.
HOMER HAPPY: The Home Run Derby on Monday night drew 6,686,000 viewers on ESPN, according to fast national ratings, up 4 percent from last year’s 6,418,000. The 4.7 rating increased 2 percent from last year’s 4.6.
It drew a 10.3 rating in Boston, a 9.3 in Milwaukee, a 6.3 in Phoenix and a 6.1 in New York.
STEAMY FORECAST: While much was made of the Arizona heat at the All-Star game, commissioner Bud Selig knows that it’s sweltering across much of America in July. Take Kansas City, site of next year’s game, for instance.
“It will be just as hot and a little more humid, but what the hell?” Selig said. “That’s been Kansas City forever.”
AP Sports Writer Ron Blum contributed to this report.