A's All-Star Balfour is last but not least
Closer's late-game success paves way for late selection
NEW YORK -- He is the late Grant Balfour, alive and well and living -- for a two nights anyway -- in New York City. He routinely enters baseball games late -- in the ninth inning or thereafter. He earned the job as closer for the A's relatively late in his career -- he's 35, despite his erroneous claim of 36 -- and has been closing regularly only since the middle of last season. He learned late he would represent the A's at the All-Star Game, and he arrived late -- or early, depending on perspective -- for the second day of the festivities.
And, all that aside, he characterizes himself as -- what else? -- "a late bloomer." Any questions.
You'd never ask him to start, lead off or speak first. He's unfamiliar with appetizers and cocktail hours. He's a "last call" kind of guy (alcohol not included). He prefers brunch to breakfast and lunch to brunch. "In the beginning" is not in his lexicon. He knows only surnames, reads the index first and believes the last four digits of his credit card are the only four digits. His last name ought to be Zimmer, Zimmerman, Zimmermann, Zisk, Zito, Zobrist or Zuverink. And his favored piece of punctuation is a period. Period.
And truth be told, he was born on the 364th day of a non leap year. Honest Australian.
That Balfour can be found in the bullpen of the first-place team in the American League West is a mostly meaningless inconsistency. Not everyone can be last -- or even late -- all the time.
That he could be found at Citi Field in Queens Monday afternoon is mostly meaningful circumstance for the lone A's representative set to play in this summer break extravaganza. He didn't come by it easily, which is consistent with many of his ventures in the game.
To become an All-Star, Balfour had to wait for Bartolo Colon, the A's other All-Star, to throw a pitch Sunday. The pitch was thrown, and the nod was given to the veteran right-handed reliever
Understand that the man Balfour has replaced on the American League roster is the least-likely All-Star, selected because of his 12-3 record, 2.73 ERA and recycled velocity and despite his 40 years and the fact that he was an All-Star 15 and eight years ago.
But it doesn't matter how the vacancy developed.
Balfour had a sense he'd be making the cross-country flight before the needs of the A's made Colon less than ideally suited for Tuesday night duty in the Big Citi. Still, flying a red-eye with his wife and two daughters -- 2 years old and eight months old -- after pitching a clean, three-strikeout ninth against the Red Sox on Sunday might have taken some of the polish off his trip to the Big Apple.
The Balfours landed at 8:15 a.m. ET Monday, reached their hotel room at 9:15 and were changing diapers until 9:45. Chances are Yankees closer Mariano Rivera's trip -- White Plains to Flushing -- wasn't quite so taxing. But Balfour is here and quite pleased to be.
"Every year, I set my goals," he said. "They're never numbers. It just say things like, 'I want to be in the World Series.' 'I want to be an All-Star.' This year, I can scratch that off my list. It's great to get the chance. I'm glad it worked.
"I've been an underdog in my career. I grew up an underdog," a reference to the mostly perfunctory scouting big league clubs do in Australia and that he has played for mostly small market teams, the Twins, Rays and A's. "I've been under the radar a lot. So I'm like a sneak attack being here."
Not that his numbers are in anyway lacking. He has produced a 1.63 ERA, 25 saves in 25 opportunities; he has 41 strikeouts and 40 baserunners in 38 1/3 innings. His 43 consecutive conversions of save opportunities over two seasons eclipsed the franchise record set by Hall of Famer Dennis Eckersley.
Balfour isn't last in that arena either.
And now he will share a bullpen with the great Mariano, a highly anticipated experience he expects to be surreal. Balfour is the A's last line of defense for about a year now. He has the last words. But Mo Rivera has been the "Amen" for 600-plus Yankees victories.
There's a difference.
The final phase of All-Star Game voting will again have fans participating in the official voting for the Ted Williams All-Star Game Most Valuable Player Award presented by Chevrolet. During the Midsummer Classic, fans will vote exclusively online at MLB.com via the 2013 All-Star Game MLB.com MVP Vote, and their voice will represent 20 percent of the official vote determining the recipient of the Arch Ward Trophy.
The 2013 All-Star Game will be played at Citi Field on Tuesday. Come to MLB.com for extensive online coverage of the All-Star Week festivities.
The 84th All-Star Game will be televised nationally by FOX Sports, in Canada by Rogers Sportsnet and RDS, and worldwide by partners in more than 200 countries via MLB International's independent feed. ESPN Radio and ESPN Radio Deportes will provide national radio coverage of the All-Star Game. MLB Network and SiriusXM also will also provide comprehensive All-Star Week coverage. For more information, please visit allstargame.com.
Marty Noble is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.