Phillies' Manuel looks past record in choosing him to replace Cain
July 13, 2009 4:00 AM
The Pirates' Zach Duke
By Dejan Kovacevic Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
PHILADELPHIA -- The odds Zach Duke faced in being named to the National League All-Star team, as he was yesterday, were daunting.
Consider these five obstacles:
1. He plays for the perennially last-place Pirates, who already had a representative in second baseman Freddy Sanchez. The team has had two representatives only three times in the past 15 years.
2. He is a starting pitcher, the toughest position to crack on an All-Star roster. No one from the Pirates had done it since Denny Neagle in 1995.
3. His record is 8-8, a stark contrast to his 3.29 ERA.
4. He was coming off a three-season span in which no pitcher in the league allowed more hits.
• • What: 80th All-Star Game.
• When: 8 p.m.
• TV: WPGH.
5. He did not make the original All-Star roster, named last week, and never had made one previously.
And yet, shortly after reporting to Citizens Bank Park yesterday morning, Duke was summoned into Pirates manager John Russell's office and told he is heading to St. Louis, where the game will be played tomorrow night at Busch Stadium.
"It's amazing," Duke said. "I couldn't be happier."
The process of his selection began, in a way, here on Friday night, when Duke pitched a complete game against World Series champion Philadelphia. It was a 3-2 loss, but Phillies manager Charlie Manuel, also the All-Star manager, came away impressed.
As Russell put it, "When the manager of the All-Star team is watching, that doesn't hurt."
As for Duke's .500 record, it could be that the Pirates, who pushed his selection, made all concerned aware that, in his eight losses, the offense provided him a total of seven runs of support. And that two of Duke's three complete games, remarkably, were losses.
"If we'd scored a few more runs for Zach, he would have been a shoo-in," Russell said. "I thought he was very deserving."
And so it happened yesterday, when Manuel was informed that Matt Cain of the San Francisco Giants could not participate -- Cain was struck on the forearm by a line drive Saturday -- he turned to Duke, who had been among the pitchers considered earlier by him and the other two managers on his staff, St. Louis' Tony La Russa and Los Angeles' Joe Torre.
"He's pitched some good games," Manuel said of Duke after his Phillies beat the Pirates, 5-2, yesterday. "He got off to a real good start, then had a stretch where he had some rough going, but he picked it back up."
Manuel said his plan for Duke is to use him in long relief.
For Duke, 26, the selection clearly represented a towering, tangible reward for an offseason in which he built up unprecedented upper-body and arm strength, best reflected in the renewed zip on his pitches.
"This is the icing on the cake, just knowing all the work I've put into to," he said. "To have something like this to verify that work, it's kind of great. And, to feel like you're being recognized for work you're doing across the league, it's very gratifying."
Duke had planned to spend the break at his home in Texas "and sit on my butt for three days," but instead had to change plans. He was to accompany Sanchez and the Phillies' five-player contingent on a flight to St. Louis last night.
Can Duke picture the experience?
"I know I'm going to see the faces of a lot of guys I don't get out very well," he said, grinning. "Other than that, I don't really know."
Will having Sanchez there help?
"Oh, sure, he's the veteran of these things. I'll be his shadow."
Sanchez, in his third game, sounded no less enthusiastic than with his first.
"For me, the best part is just getting inside that clubhouse and seeing everybody," Sanchez said. "I mean, you see them on the field, but to be in the same clubhouse as the best players in the game, seeing all those jerseys lined up, getting your jersey signed by all those guys ... that means a lot. For that day, I'm in that clubhouse with the best players in the game."
Sanchez said his fondest memory as a baseball player came at Pittsburgh's All-Star Game in 2006, when the crowd thunderously chanted "Fred-dy!" as he was introduced.
"That still ranks on top. The roar, the ovation of that crowd ... how can you forget that? All I could do was just stand there and think to myself, 'Wow.' That's a big part of why I love the city and the fans so much. That moment was just ... unbelievable."
Sanchez was asked, given thick trade speculation swirling, what it meant to be representing the Pirates.
"Oh, it means a lot. I don't need to go on about how much I love the city and fans, but the history of the city and the Pirates, all the great players that have represented this organization in the past, that's an honor. It's truly an honor. This team has so much tradition that just knowing that I'm one of the Pirates' All-Stars is an honor for me."