Injured reliever a first-time honoree; southpaw earns second nod
ST. PETERSBURG -- A phone message was left for Jesse Crain by White Sox director of team travel Ed Cassin sometime Saturday afternoon.
Crain, who didn't journey to Florida with the team because he has been temporarily shut down from working out after going on the disabled list Wednesday with a shoulder strain, wasn't quite sure what the message was about.
"When Ed gave me the news, I was close to tears," said Crain in a Saturday night phone interview, after being selected as an All-Star for the first time in his decade-long career. Crain was voted in by the players and will be joined by teammate Chris Sale, the losing pitcher in Saturday's 3-0 setback to the Rays, whose second straight All-Star appearance came via a selection by American League and Detroit manager Jim Leyland.
"He deserved it more than anybody honestly," said Sale of Crain. "The All-Star Game is for the best players to go. He's hands down the best reliever this year without a doubt."
Because of the shoulder injury, Crain won't be eligible to participate in the actual All-Star Game and was replaced by Minnesota closer Glen Perkins on the active roster. That inactivity won't prevent Crain from attending the All-Star festivities in New York and relishing the rare honor for a setup man.
It was just one month ago when Crain told MLB.com that reaching the All-Star Game would probably be an once-in-a-lifetime opportunity because of his setup role. He also joked about players sometimes rushing through their personal All-Star ballot and hoped that they paid attention to everybody.
Clearly, the 32-year-old Crain's franchise-record 29 straight appearances without allowing a run, breaking J.J. Putz's previous mark of 27, and 31 straight games without allowing an earned run made an impact. The same can be said for his 0.74 ERA entering the All-Star break and 46 strikeouts over 36 2/3 innings.
Crain's vote total of 156 trailed only Mariano Rivera's top vote of 288 among the players. Crain checked in 30 votes ahead of Rangers closer Joe Nathan, another player-elected All-Star.
"Hearing that … I'm speechless on that," Crain said. "I play the game because I love it, and I try to take it day by day and pitch by pitch and just go out there and do my job. For everyone to vote that way, they obviously respect what I do out there and that means a lot.
"You don't get many opportunities. I had a little bit of everything. I had luck and put together a good year. It's good for all the guys who pitch the innings I do, in the seventh and eighth, it gives everyone a chance to make it. You could probably count on one hand the times in the last 10 years a non-closer made it."
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Sale, 24, ranks in the top 10 of almost every AL pitching category but victories. Despite an 0-6 record over his last seven starts, he has posted a 3.10 ERA, 62 strikeouts and a .196 average against over 49 1/3 innings. The fact that Sale has received a total of nine runs of support during that stretch might explain the record.
His 5-8 mark didn't dissuade Leyland from choosing Sale.
"I thought he was [an easy choice]," said Leyland of Sale, who had a 28-inning scoreless streak this season. "He's got very impressive numbers other than the win and loss column. I think he's one of the best pitchers in baseball."
"It's an honor," Sale said. "I'm very thankful and fortunate to be in that position. It will be a fun day. I'm looking forward to it."
During a White Sox game in Anaheim, televised by FOX on May 18, Sale ran into legendary broadcaster Tim McCarver in the clubhouse hours before the first pitch. McCarver told the young southpaw how he had enjoyed watching him pitch during the previous night's 3-0 victory and that he was looking forward to seeing him at the All-Star Game this year.
Being ever so humble, a smiling Sale wasn't about to accept such an honor long before it became official.
But the talented starter who leads the AL in opponents' OPS and opponents' slugging, while ranking third in strikeouts per nine innings and sixth with his 123 strikeouts, makes his second straight of what could be many Midsummer Classic appearances. Even without being able to play because of his injury, it should be the highlight of Crain's accomplished career.
"Being an All-Star is something you will always have and it never can be taken away," Crain said. "I'm bummed I can't participate. I'm excited to be there and take my kids on the field that they see on TV and enjoy the moment."