Trio of arms offer a big thumbs up
Pitchers Saunders, Santana, K-Rod enjoy All-Star experience
NEW YORK -- Joe Saunders' magical season continues.
Making his All-Star Game debut on Tuesday night at Yankee Stadium just three days after becoming a father for the first time, Saunders worked a scoreless third inning for the American League. Several hours and a dozen innings later, the AL deepened the National League's maddening frustration with a 4-3 triumph, extending to 12 years a run of futility and losses interrupted by one draw.
Not as fortunate as Saunders was his Angels teammate, Ervin Santana. In the midst of a comeback campaign just as extraordinary as Saunders' breakout season, Santana made one mistake in the fifth inning and it left the ballpark.
Francisco Rodriguez, the third Angels' pitcher on manager Terry Francona's AL staff, faced two hitters in the ninth before giving way to Yankees legend Mariano Rivera. K-Rod walked one man and got an out, Rivera finishing the inning with a strikeout that became a double play on a steal attempt.
Facing Rockies slugger Matt Holliday leading off, Santana jumped ahead in the count before putting a 2-2 fastball in a hittable spot, up and away. Holliday sent it rocketing into the right-field seats for his first All-Star Game homer and a 1-0 lead.
Santana finished the inning with a flourish, striking out Cubs Kosuke Fukudome and Geovany Soto.
Saunders (12-5) and Santana (11-3) began Spring Training dueling for the fifth spot and, in one of the season's most remarkable stories, shared the home clubhouse in the All-Star Game at Yankee Stadium.
"Both those guys have great stuff and were throwing great," said catcher Joe Mauer, who worked with Saunders and Santana. "Santana left a fastball up, and Holliday hit it hard. Saunders threw strikes and got it done.
"Everybody is here for a reason. You could see why those two guys are here."
Showing no anxiety on the big stage, Saunders induced Fukudome to ground out on a two-strike pitch and retired Soto on a first-pitch fly ball to center before Hanley Ramirez stroked a single to right. Chase Utley then tapped out to first to end the inning.
Saunders was able to get a few workouts in during his six days between starts, and he was as sharp as he could expected.
"This has all been a dream," he said, grinning.
Fatherhood already has made a huge impact on Saunders, whose wife, Shanel, presented him with daughter Matea, their first child, on Saturday in Orange County, Calif.
"It opens your eyes in more ways than one," Saunders said. "It kind of makes other things inconsequential -- even going to an All-Star Game. She's our priority No. 1. This is a lot of fun ... but she's my daughter.
"They put her in my arms right away after she was born. She opened her eyes, looked right at me ... I looked at her, thinking, 'I made you.' I know Shanel's really happy and excited to start this new chapter of our lives. Her mom's there helping her. She's got a good support system."
As thrilled as he was to wear the Angels' uniform in his first All-Star Game, a memorable one in the Bronx, Saunders admitted it was difficult pulling himself away from home so soon after becoming a dad.
"I was there for two days and had to leave," he said. "I wanted to stay. I didn't want to leave."
Saunders didn't get much sleep for several days and has been too busy to get a haircut. He most recently pitched in Texas on Tuesday night, heading home after the game to prepare for the birth.
He skipped his scheduled start on Sunday in Oakland, giving Dustin Moseley the opportunity to help the Angels take a big game that gave them the series finale and a six-game lead over the A's in the American League West.
"I was numb, exhausted," Saunders said. "I really wanted to pitch, but Mose did a great job. I'm really happy for him."
Both his parents made it to New York for Saunders' first All-Star Game, along with his sister and other members of both sides of the family.
Santana's parents also were in attendance, making the trip from the Dominican Republic.
"This is a great time for everybody," Santana said. "I am very happy I got to come here and pitch. I felt good, like always. It's something to remember."
For K-Rod, yielding quickly to Rivera was not unexpected, and it didn't bother him at all. Much of the focus of the days leading into the game involved the great Yankees closer and how he would factor into the outcome.
Relieving K-Rod in the ninth had Rivera in position to gain credit for the win after he pitched a scoreless 10th, but the AL was unable to take advantage of a bases-loaded opportunity with none out when four NL defenders -- Pirates center fielder Nate McLouth, Dodgers catcher Russell Martin, Padres first baseman Adrian Gonzalez and Astros shortstop Miguel Tejada -- made game-saving plays in a remarkable sequence.
"He's one of the greatest closers of all-time," K-Rod said of Rivera. "It's amazing, how he's so nice and easy. It seems like no effort. He's great. When I retire, I want to be compared with him."
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.