Providing a lot of relief

O's closer sparkled in career-high-tying 2 1/3 innings, helping AL prevail

George Sherrill's All-Star performance

July 17, 2008|By Dan Connolly | Dan Connolly,Sun reporter

NEW YORK - Days ago, when Orioles closer George Sherrill contemplated what it would be like to be part of Major League Baseball's 79th All-Star Game, he figured he would be content with just being there, even if he never made it to the fabled Yankee Stadium mound.

"I think the only thing I wouldn't want to do is pitch multiple innings," Sherrill said at the time. "But I don't think they'd ask me to do that."

At 2 a.m. yesterday, with an ice pack strapped to his left arm and a smile cemented on his lips, Sherrill sat in the home clubhouse and offered up a delirious laugh when reminded of his earlier comment.

"When you have 15 innings, I guess you have to use everybody," he said.

Sherrill was used, all right.

For 2 1/3 innings, tying the longest outing of his major league career. He hadn't gone that long since July 20, 2004, his fourth big league game.

His near-spotless performance was one of the biggest keys for an American League squad that rallied to win, 4-3, in 15 innings, extended its unbeaten streak to a record 12 games and clinched World Series home-field advantage for the sixth consecutive time.

It was perhaps the most memorable midsummer classic in the sport's history, a 4-hour, 50-minute marathon overflowing with pageantry, living history and dramatic plays all displayed on sports' grandest stage in its final year of existence.

The celebration was punctuated by the presence of 49 Hall of Famers, who took the field at their old positions during a pre-game ceremony, and a stirring visit from the New York Yankees' 78-year-old owner, George Steinbrenner. The sellout crowd of 55,632 roared from the first player introduction until the beginning of Grammy Award-winner Sheryl Crow's national anthem and continued nearly nonstop until the Minnesota Twins' Justin Morneau scored the winning run at 1:37 a.m.

"It was great. Everything from the Hall of Famers to the [stealth bomber] flyover to Sheryl Crow singing, it was great," Sherrill said. "You couldn't ask for a better day or a better game."

Or a better story than Sherrill, who went undrafted and spent five seasons in independent leagues before signing to play affiliated baseball at age 26.

Five years later, he's a big league All-Star, summoned with the bases loaded and two outs in the top of the 12th and San Diego Padres slugger Adrian Gonzalez at the plate.

Sherrill threw his first two pitches for strikes and then unleashed a nasty cutter that disappeared from the strike zone, avoiding Gonzalez's swing to keep the score tied.

"I don't throw a cutter," Sherrill said, laughing. "It looked like it was a strike, and then all the sudden it just cut. We were lucky."

With only the Tampa Bay Rays' Scott Kazmir, who had thrown 104 pitches Sunday, available in the bullpen, Sherrill knew he would have to pitch the 13th if necessary.

He did and allowed one broken-bat single and nothing else. As he got to the dugout, the AL coaching staff approached him.

"They came to me. They caught me at the bottom of the steps," Sherrill said. "And they just said, 'How do you feel?' And I said, 'I feel fine.' I know Kaz is the only one out there. And they wanted to stay away from using him."

He added, "It was either make Baltimore mad or Tampa mad."

Sherrill didn't hesitate to go back out for the 14th despite rarely pitching more than an inning throughout most of his career.

In his first All-Star Game, he pitched longer than anyone else on the AL roster. He responded with a perfect 14th before turning it over to Kazmir, who picked up the win.

"For him to do what he did, with the enthusiasm. He wasn't coming out of that game," AL manager Terry Francona said "He didn't want to come out. And the way he pitched, he didn't deserve to come out."

Early on, Sherrill didn't think he would pitch at all. He warmed up in the sixth, but Francona didn't need him. So he assumed a bullpen session would be the extent of his All-Star experience.

Then came the 12th, 13th and 14th innings, when, with an efficient 25 pitches, Sherrill made a significant impact on one of the most remarkable July nights in baseball's storied history.

dan.connolly@baltsun.com

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