Baseball Standouts In St. Louis For All-Star Game
RENEE MONTAGNE, Host:
Tonight in St. Louis, Major League Baseball holds its All-Star game. The contest between American and National League stars marks the traditional midpoint of the season. So we thought it'd be a good time to check in on the big stories in baseball so far, so we called in NPR's Mike Pesca.
MIKE PESCA: Hi.
MONTAGNE: Let's talk about the good teams. Maybe the biggest surprise is the San Francisco Giants. If the season ended today, they'd make the playoffs, and really, no one thought that was possible.
PESCA: Right. The problem going into the year was that the San Francisco Giants just had an awful lineup, a bad offense. People had thought they'd have good pitching. Well, as it turns out, they have really good pitching. They have probably the best pitcher in the National League, Tim Lincecum, a small guy who throws hard and has a very interesting delivery.
And then they have another pitcher named Jonathan Sanchez who actually hasn't been good this year. He was so bad, they sent him to the bullpen. But then in his first start out of the bullpen, he pitches a no-hitter.
MONTAGNE: And then an interesting story about a not-so-young player - in fact, the oldest player since Satchel Paige, I gather, to show up for the first time in an All-Star game, Tim Wakefield.
PESCA: Tim Wakefield is making his debut in the All-Star game. He's 42 years old. Wakefield is a knuckle baller. A knuckle ball is an extremely hard pitch to master and an even harder pitch to hit. And if you can throw a baseball without any spin, as the baseball moves through the air, the laws of physics dictate that it will flutter a little like a butterfly. So because Tim Wakefield is a master of this pitch, he's able to pitch well into his old age.
I also love this one detail about Tim Wakefield: In this age of agents and negotiations and free agency, here's how Tim Wakefield negotiates his contract every year - season's over. Red Sox call and say you want to do it again, $4 million? Wakefield says yes. Every year that's how it's going, for the last five or six years.
Everyone says he could get more money if he played somewhere else. Wakefield's happy. His career is going well, as evidenced by the fact that he's an All-Star for the first time.
MONTAGNE: Now, two very big names in baseball who will not be at the All-Star game tonight: Manny Ramirez and Alex Rodriguez.
PESCA: Well, they're two of the best players in the game, and they've also been caught up in the game's ongoing travails with steroids or performance-enhancing drugs. Alex Rodriguez, before this year, it was revealed that while he was a member of the Texas Rangers, he took some steroids. He started off the year on the DL. He's come back. He's done pretty well. He's shown a lot of power. And the Yankees are doing fine in the standings. They're right behind the Red Sox.
Now let's go over to the Dodgers. Manny Ramirez is the first superstar to be caught up in baseball's official testing program. What happened before this was that there were so many unknowns with who was taking performance enhancing drugs and so many fingers pointed. Well, Manny Ramirez failed the test, and he was suspended for 50 games.
But you know what? The Dodgers were great before Manny was suspended. They were very good while Manny was suspended. And since he's come back, they've also been doing well.
MONTAGNE: And, Mike, given that the weather and the pennant races are heating up, what's ahead?
PESCA: Yeah. We want to see if the Dodgers can keep at it as having the best record in baseball. Now that Manny's back, it looks like they can. We want to see if the Chicago Cubs, who last year were the best team in the National League and this year are really punchless, if they could somehow gain fire in the second half.
We're really looking to the AL East. That's where the Red Sox are. That's where the Yankees are. And, oh, by the way, it's also where the American League defending champions, the Tampa Bay Rays, are. And they are very much in the hunt. They score the most runs in baseball. That'll be an interesting division. It's going to be a great summer.
MONTAGNE: Mike, thanks very much.
PESCA: Oh, you're welcome.
MONTAGNE: NPR's Mike Pesca.
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