Standouts take their bow in Bronx

Closer Sherrill in line to become 5th Orioles pick to play at stadium

All-Star Game

July 14, 2008|By Dan Connolly | Dan Connolly,SUN REPORTER

What Brooks Robinson remembers most about the experience was the intimidating conversation on the flight there.

Jim Palmer won't ever forget the searing heat or his uncharacteristically rough performance.

As for George Sherrill, the Orioles closer who tomorrow will be part of his first All-Star Game, which just happens to be the final one in venerable Yankee Stadium, he has no idea what to expect.

"The first one is nice, but it being there and being the last one at Yankee Stadium, it gives a little extra to it," Sherrill said.

Because the stadium is closing at the end of this season, Major League Baseball decided to hold the 2008 midsummer classic in the Bronx for the first time since 1977 and only the fourth (the others were in 1939 and 1960) in its storied history.

Assuming he gets into tomorrow's game, Sherrill will be just the fifth Oriole to play in an All-Star Game there, joining Hall of Famers Robinson and Palmer as well as outfielder Ken Singleton and shortstop Ron Hansen.

The last time an Oriole took the mound in an All-Star Game at Yankee Stadium, the results weren't pretty.

Palmer was the American League starter in 1977, the third of four times he earned the nod in his career. That night was punctuated by 104-degree heat, which didn't aid Palmer's performance.

He was told the game would start on time, but it didn't, so he waited for 30 minutes after his bullpen session before he faced a batter.

His sixth pitch of the game, a 3-2 fastball to Joe Morgan, was hit down the right-field line for a leadoff homer. By the time the inning was over, Palmer had allowed a one-out single to Dave Parker, a run-scoring double to George Foster and a two-run homer to Greg Luzinski for a 4-0 deficit.

Palmer pitched a scoreless second, but Steve Garvey hit a leadoff homer in the third, which brought AL manager Billy Martin to the mound for a pitching change.

"I said to Billy, 'What took you so long?' " Palmer said. "He said, 'I didn't want to embarrass you.' Leaving me out there, that was embarrassing to me."

Still, the experience of being just one of three pitchers in history to start an All-Star Game for the AL in Yankee Stadium was special for Palmer - and put him in elite company. (The other two were Yankees, Red Ruffing and Whitey Ford, and both are also in the Hall of Fame.)

Palmer spent his early childhood in New York as a Yankees fan, and he experienced one of those seminal moments directly out of Billy Crystal's "greatest day ever" monologue in the film City Slickers.

"I am one of those kids whose dad took him to Yankee Stadium when I was 9 years old," Palmer said.

Robinson's All-Star Game at Yankee Stadium was fairly uneventful. He entered in the seventh and grounded out in the ninth. But it stuck with him - or at least getting there did.

It was Robinson's first time as an All-Star, and back then there were two games each season. In 1960, the first was in Kansas City and the second in New York.

Robinson remembers being on the plane from one game to the other and sitting near Boston Red Sox great Ted Williams, who was appearing in his final midsummer classic. On the plane, Williams chatted with Lew Fonseca, a lifetime .316 hitter who by that time was broadcasting, and the 23-year-old Robinson eavesdropped.

"I listened to those two guys start talking about hitting, and I didn't know what they were talking about," Robinson said. "I said, 'Man, if hitting is this tough, I'll never get another hit.' "

Robinson pinch ran for Williams in that game after Williams delivered a pinch-hit single to right in his final All-Star at-bat.

"That was kind of a breakout year for me, 1960," Robinson said. "And to be on the team with Ted Williams, that made it fantastic. And being in Yankee Stadium was just great."

The AL lost that one, 6-0. In fact, it has won just one in the Bronx, 3-1, in 1939.

In the 1960 game, the National League won on the strength of home runs by Willie Mays, Eddie Mathews, Stan Musial and Ken Boyer.

In Palmer's 1977 game, the NL won, 7-5, thanks in part to its early lead.

So, in the Bronx anyway, the AL is due. Overall, though, the AL is 10-0-1 in the past 11 games.

Regardless of the outcome, this one will be remembered for where it happened.

"There is a lot of significance, whether you played there before me or after me," Palmer said. "It's Yankee Stadium. It's the pinstripes. It's something very special."

dan.connolly@baltsun.com

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