Francona on keeping Mariano in the pen
July 14: The Red Sox manager explains why he won't start Mariano Rivera for the AL team; Lee, Sheets and Hurdle also comment.
NEW YORK - Fired up about his first trip to Yankee Stadium, Ben Sheets had it all planned out. Arrive early and visit Monument Park, gaze up at that famous facade, drink in the entire experience the same way any fan would.
One big difference, though: The Milwaukee Brewers ace also will get the ball to start Tuesday night’s All-Star game for the National League.
“I’m not going to let a stadium intimidate me,” Sheets said Monday in a hotel ballroom, hours before zipping uptown for batting practice and workouts. “At least while I’m sitting here I’m not.”
Cleveland’s Cliff Lee was picked by Boston manager Terry Francona to start for the AL, highlighting a remarkable resurgence for the left-hander after he was demoted to the minors last year.
Now, he’s the best of the best as Major League Baseball salutes Yankee Stadium in its final season.
“I’m just honored to be here, to be honest with you. To get the start for me is icing on the cake,” said Lee, 12-2 with a 2.31 ERA. “I’m kind of awe-struck by it.”
NL manager Clint Hurdle of Colorado tabbed Sheets, who is 10-3 with a 2.85 ERA. Several other NL All-Stars pitched Sunday, making the well-rested Sheets a logical choice.
“Really looking forward to this opportunity to go out there, last All-Star game in Yankee Stadium history,” Sheets said. “I know one thing, it’s going to be glowing as I pull up.
“I’m going to definitely do a sightseeing tour today, and I’m going to enjoy every minute of it.”
After getting to the ballpark, Sheets was struck by the cramped clubhouse and narrow walkways, outdated elements of a venue that opened in 1923.
“It just seems a little bit smaller than other stadiums I’ve been in,” he said. “The other stadiums are new.”
Both managers announced their lineups Monday in the same Manhattan banquet room where the Mitchell Report on drugs in baseball was released seven months before.
Francona kept more than numbers in mind when putting together his batting order.
“For me, a Derek Jeter deserves to hit at the top of the order, in a place like this especially,” he said.
The manager also acknowledged he thought about whether to honor Yankees closer Mariano Rivera with the start in his home ballpark — but only because Francona was asked about it by reporters.
“Mariano may be the greatest reliever of all-time, but he’s not a starter,” Francona said. “You’re putting a guy possibly at risk doing something he’s not done. We will treat every player in this game with a lot of respect, certainly knowing that there are Yankees involved in this game. But other than that, I think we are doing it correctly.”
Francona wouldn’t even commit to calling on Rivera to close out a ninth-inning lead, saying he didn’t want to divulge his plans.
“I’m going to stick my neck out there and say we’ll prepare for him a little bit, watch a little video,” Hurdle said, drawing laughs.
Hurdle put Florida shortstop Hanley Ramirez at the top of his order, followed by Philadelphia second baseman Chase Utley, Houston first baseman Lance Berkman, St. Louis slugger Albert Pujols at designated hitter, Atlanta third baseman Chipper Jones, Colorado’s Matt Holliday in right field, Milwaukee left fielder Ryan Braun, Chicago’s Kosuke Fukudome in center and Cubs rookie catcher Geovany Soto.
“It’s the best lineup that I’ve ever written down on paper, so we’ll see where it takes us,” Hurdle said.
Sheets is set to become the first Brewers pitcher to start an All-Star game — three days before his 30th birthday. His most recent outing was last Wednesday, when he struck out 11 batters in six innings of a loss to the Rockies.
“Kind of got my eye. I’m real smart like that,” Hurdle said.
Hurdle said he looked closest at the All-Star pitchers who were voted in by players when he was deciding which one would start.
That group included Sheets, Chicago’s Ryan Dempster, San Francisco’s Tim Lincecum, Cincinnati’s Edinson Volquez and Arizona’s Brandon Webb. Dempster, Lincecum and Webb all started Sunday, while Volquez earned his 12th win Saturday.
Sheets’ All-Star bonus doubled to $50,000 for being selected as the starting pitcher.
The nation grieved for those hurt, killed and affected by the Boston Marathon bombings. After one of the suspects was caught on Friday — following a day-long lockdown and manhunt — sports returned to Boston over the weekend.
His 5-year-old son sat next to him during an interview session at the hotel, wearing a Brewers cap and a replica of his dad’s All-Star jersey. The right-hander said he’d have nearly 10 family members at Yankee Stadium to watch him pitch Tuesday.
“I’m just going to try to take it all in and enjoy myself,” Sheets said. “I was nervous more so about this interview than the game.”
The 29-year-old Lee compiled a 0.67 ERA during his first seven starts. He was 18-5 in 2005 but went 5-8 with a 6.29 ERA last year, when he was optioned to the minors for more than a month.
“There’s a lot of pitchers this year that are having outstanding, not only years but certainly first halves, and none measured up to Cliff’s,” Francona said.
The last Indians pitcher to start an All-Star game was Charles Nagy in 1996 at Philadelphia — the last time the National League won.
“We will attempt and make every effort to put a foot down and stop this slide,” Hurdle said. “We’re not going to play for a tie. We are definitely going to throw it out there.”
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