Red Sox's All-Stars shine brightly in Phoenix
Adrian, Papi, Ellsbury, Youk, Beckett, Lester soaking it all in
PHOENIX -- They are a team with six All-Stars, and they dominated one corner of the ballroom where the American League's media day was conducted on Monday. In possession of the second-best record in the Major Leagues, the Red Sox have had considerable help from all their All-Stars to get to this point.
However, if you were to pick one of the six as the centerpiece of this year's group, it would have to be first baseman Adrian Gonzalez. And in many ways, this was his coming out party on the national stage.
A three-time All-Star during his tenure with the San Diego Padres, Gonzalez came to the event this time representing one of the most high-profile teams in baseball. Not only that, but he is an All-Star starter for the first time, batting third in manager Ron Washington's loaded AL lineup. Gonzalez will dig in against Phillies ace Roy Halladay, and perhaps another NL pitcher or two.
"The fact that I was voted on by the fans and being able to start is definitely different," Gonzalez said. "I'm going into the game knowing who I'm going to face, at least for my first at-bat. I might have multiple at-bats, even if it's just two. It's definitely different -- mental preparation and the way you go about it all changes."
And on Monday night, Gonzalez participated in the State Farm Home Run Derby, thanks to an invitation from teammate David Ortiz. Kevin Youkilis, Jacoby Ellsbury, Josh Beckett and Jon Lester are the other All-Stars representing the Red Sox in Phoenix.
Where once Gonzalez came to the All-Star Game as a hitter people were learning about, there are no longer any secrets. That's how life is with the Red Sox.
"Being in San Diego, I didn't really have the opportunity to watch him play," said Ellsbury, a first-time All-Star. "It's been fun. Coming to Spring Training, watching his approach, watching the way he goes about the game, it's nice to see, from my perspective as a young player. He's just a great player to watch, just the way he goes about his business. I'd say he's one of the most true professionals I've seen.
"He gets there early, watches the game film, gets there and there's just a nice easy flow to his game."
Gonzalez takes gaudy numbers with him into this All-Star Game. He is hitting .354, with 17 homers, 77 RBIs and a 1.006 OPS.
"Adrian Gonzalez didn't really get seen that much until he came to Boston," said Youkilis. "Now everyone is seeing how great Adrian Gonzalez is. He was a great player for years."
And more than halfway through his first season in Boston, Gonzalez is fully enjoying his new surroundings.
"The biggest difference is that I'm in a ballpark that's a better place to hit offensively," Gonzalez said. "We have a lineup that scores a lot more runs. That's a byproduct of the American League and having Papi as our DH. There's not one thing that stands out. It's just an accumulation of all of them."
For Ortiz, the All-Star stage is a familiar one. It is his seventh appearance, but first start since 2007.
Big Papi didn't even know he could be elected as a starter this season until his 7-year-old son D'Angelo told him a few months back.
"You know who let me know about it? My son," Ortiz said. "He told me at the beginning of May, 'Hey, daddy, are we going to the All-Star Game?' I was, like, 'Well, dude, let me tell you something, there's no DHing in the National League.' He went, 'But wait, dad, you've been in a few All-Star Games in the National League. I was like, 'Yeah, when I was putting up those crazy numbers.' He said, 'Well, do it again, dad.'"
And that's what Ortiz has done, hitting .304, with 19 homers, 55 RBIs and a .965 OPS. This marked the first season the DH was on the AL ballot for a game played in a NL city, a change that was instituted last year.
The one Sox player who was soaking things in the most was Ellsbury.
"Oh, to watch the All-Star Game as a kid, you hope that one day you can put on a big league uniform and have the opportunity to do that," Ellsbury said. "To be a big league All-Star, playing against the game's best players is a true honor."
It is one that Ellsbury has earned -- hitting .316 with 11 homers, 49 RBIs, 28 stolen bases and a .377 on-base percentage.
A week ago, Youkilis was one of many bubble players who thought he wasn't going to Phoenix. But after Alex Rodriguez had to bow out with a right knee injury, Youkilis earned his third All-Star appearance.
"It's an honor," Youkilis said. "It's more on the back of your baseball card a lot of times when you see that stuff. I'll take the World Series over the All-Star Game every year. The team accolades and winning is higher, but All-Star Games are probably second behind that just because of the fact that you're doing well and you're helping out. I think it's great when you have a lot of your teammates here. It just shows how good your team is."
Beckett, who has returned to ace form after a 2010 season filled with back woes and ineffectiveness, is another big reason the Red Sox get to the break in first place. The righty hyperextended his left knee in his last start, but he is confident he can give the AL an inning or two.
"If [Washington] needs me, I think I can pitch," said Beckett. "I don't think it's exactly what everybody back in Boston probably wants, but if he needs me, I can definitely pitch."
Does Beckett, who earned the win in the 2007 All-Star Game, want to pitch?
"Yeah, it's fun," Beckett said. "It is. The whole time [here] is fun as well. I think that maybe you can enjoy your off the field stuff a little bit more if you knew you weren't pitching, but I'm going into it thinking I'm probably going to get an inning or two."
Lester, for sure, won't pitch an inning. He was named as a replacement All-Star on Sunday, but immediately had to give up that spot because he's on the 15-day disabled list with a lower latissimus strain.
Given the short notice, nobody would have begrudged Lester if he had kept his original All-Star break plans. But he felt it was important to represent his team and the sport while enjoying the experience. Lester was also an All-Star last season.
"You never know how many you're going to be a part of," Lester said. "Even though I was on the DL and can't pitch, I still want to come and be a part of it. Like I said, you never know how many you'll get selected to, so take advantage of the ones that you are."