PHOENIX — Pitching has again become the dominant force in baseball over the past couple of years, the hitters not standing much of a chance against all those arms.
With so many good pitchers out there, the managers for Tuesday’s All-Star Game almost couldn’t go wrong.
They certainly won’t get many complaints for choosing Philadelphia Phillies ace of aces Roy Halladay and Los Angeles Angels star Jered Weaver.
In an All-Star Game missing some of its luster, these two reluctant, go-about-their-business studs seem like a perfect fit.
“When you talk about the great pitchers in our game today, the elite pitchers, or a pitcher that you would want to start in a game that you would have to win, Roy’s name is always at the top of the list with just the incredible career that he’s had,” said San Francisco Giants manager Bruce Bochy, skipper of the NL team. “He’s doing it again this year. This was really an easy one for me that he would start this game.”
Picking Weaver wasn’t exactly a tough decision for AL manager Ron Washington.
The lanky right-hander is having a superb season with an 11-4 record and a majors-best 1.86 ERA, but also had some of his competition for the starting nod get knocked out of the picture.
Major League Baseball doesn’t allow pitchers who started on Sunday to participate in the Midsummer Classic, which meant Detroit’s Justin Verlander, Seattle’s Felix Hernandez, Tampa Bay’s James Shields and the Yankees’ CC Sabathia were ineligible.
Still, the numbers Weaver has put up would have made him a strong candidate regardless of who the competition was.
The 29-year-old was an All-Star last season and has been even better this year, posting the lowest ERA ever by an Angels starter before the break.
Weaver has lasted at least seven innings during a nine-game stretch without a loss while winning five straight and has thrown four of his eight career complete games this season to become the first Angels pitcher to start an All-Star Game since Mark Langston in 1993.
“I’ve never competed against a more competitive pitcher and a pitcher that will do anything it takes to make sure that he keeps his team in the ballgame,” Washington said.
Weaver is making his second appearance, but Halladay, one of the best pitchers of a generation, has made a habit of playing in the Midsummer Classic.
A two-time Cy Young Award winner, Halladay has made the All-Star team eight of the past nine years and will join Vida Blue, Roger Clemens and Randy Johnson as the only pitchers to start the game for both leagues after doing it with Toronto in 2009.
Even on a Phillies staff that includes Cliff Lee, Roy Oswalt and Cole Hamels, Halladay has established himself as The Man, a dominating pitcher with no-hitter-in-the-waiting stuff.
The 34-year-old threw the second no-hitter in postseason history — with Don Larsen — in his first career playoff game against Cincinnati in last season’s NL division series and has been nearly as dominant the first half of this season.
Halladay is 11-3 this season with a 2.45 ERA and 138 strikeouts, second-best in the NL. He became the first pitcher since 1991 to open a game with 18 strikes against the Mets on April 30, a start after matching his career high with 14 strikeouts against San Diego.
“You’ve got to be good, you’ve got to be having a good season, and he’s the best in the game, so if anybody’s deserving of that [starting], it’s him,” said Lee, who joined Halladay on the NL team. “There’s a few guys that were worthy of that spot, but I think Halladay is the best pitcher in baseball, and I think 99 percent of the people in here would agree with that. It’s an honor for him, and I expect him to give us a chance to win.”
This year’s All-Star Game lost some of its star power when 16 players backed out, including Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, Ryan Braun and Jose Reyes, just to name a few. One of the biggest names in baseball, Cardinals slugger Albert Pujols, also didn’t get in because of a broken wrist.
Reyes of the New York Mets, who says he has been hurt three of the four times he has made the All-Star team, but has come to the game each time.
Philadelphia’s Shane Victorino withdrew because of injury but felt a special obligation to show up because he was the final player chosen for the NL team out of five in an on-line vote by fans.
But some of the biggest names are no-shows, most notably Jeter of the New York Yankees, who was well enough to go 5 for 5 and get his 3,000th hit with a dramatic home run on Saturday, but decided not to make the cross-country trip to the desert.
There’s still plenty of stars left, from the NL’s Prince Fielder and Matt Holliday to Josh Hamilton and Adrian Gonzalez for the AL, but the game has a little less shine than it once did.
Halladay and Weaver won’t treat it any different.
Halladay has the perfect build — 6-foot-6, 230 pounds — to be a dominating pitcher and an ultra-competitive drive to make himself one of the best pitchers in the game.
Weaver has plenty of leverage, too, along with hard-to-figure delivery and a simmering intensity behind that surfer-dude image of his.
On the worldwide stage of the All-Star Game, neither one is about to ease up, whether they’re facing A-Rod or the 16th replacement player on the roster.
“Obviously, (we’re) having some success as far as pitching goes, but you never know what you’re going to run into on any given night in a given lineup, so you can’t take anything for granted,” Weaver said.
Bochy and Washington certainly didn’t take anything for granted by picking these two.