Balfour on Rivera: 'He's been great for the game'
Grant Balfour combined with nine other A.L. pitchers to limit the N.L. to just three hits in the All-Star Game. (USA TODAY IMAGES)
NEW YORK -- Yeah, you could say Grant Balfour was a little amped up when he entered the 84th All-Star Game Tuesday night.
The A's closer stalked around the mound. He muttered things to himself that are not appropriate for certain age groups. He, well, yes, he raged as he entered the game in the sixth inning. And then he walked the first batter he faced, Colorado's Michael Cuddyer. A former teammate, no less.
On four pitches, hitting 95 mph on Ball 3.
"To be honest with you, the whole week is really draining," Balfour said after the American League's 3-0 victory at CitiField.
"It's tiring on your body, it's a different routine. It's not the typical relaxed (atmosphere). It's kind of high-stressed. I was just really pacing around and I didn't have a lot of time in the day to try to do everything. It's really a tight schedule. And I was a little amped up as far as just rushing. Maybe a little out of your routine. You're used to coming in the ninth inning and you're out there for the sixth inning, so it's a little different."
[INSTANT REPLAY: A.L. wins Midsummer Classic]
Don't get it twisted, though, Balfour had a blast. Especially after he recovered.
"I just said to myself, 'Hey, c'mon, let's get three outs right here,'" Balfour said. "'Let's get it done. Just make your pitches.'"
And that he did.
Balfour needed just two pitches to get Washington's Bryce Harper to pop out to shortstop. Then four pitches to induce a flyout to center field from St. Louis' Matt Carpenter. Five pitches later, Balfour struck out Pittsburgh's Andrew McCutchen swinging to end the inning…and Balfour's first-ever All-Star appearance. At the age of 35.
"It just took me a second to slow it down, you know?" he said. "Hey, it was all good; went 1-2-3 after the four-pitch walk, so I was happy."
Besides facing Cuddyer, with whom he was teammates in Minnesota from 2001 through 2004, Balfour also pitched to another former Twins teammate in catcher Joe Mauer. Balfour's histrionics did not surprise Mauer.
"It seems to work for him, though," Mauer said with a laugh. "I caught him a long time ago (in 2004)…it was fun to get back behind the plate for him. He's turned into a pretty good closer there and he's throwing a lot more pitches from the last time I seen him so, yeah, it was a lot of fun."
Almost as much fun as Balfour has had since April of 2012 in setting an Oakland franchise mark with 43 consecutive saves, including 25 this season.
Still, Balfour was a Sunday replacement, tabbed to take the place of fellow A's pitcher Bartolo Colon after Colon pitched the series finale against Boston to become ineligible for the All-Star Game.
And while Balfour had an inkling he'd get the call to come to New York, he said he had no idea when, or even if he'd pitch Tuesday night. Not until the bullpen phone rang telling him to get ready for the sixth.
The top memento Balfour will be taking back to Oakland from the Midsummer Classic, besides the memories and the knowledge that he pitched a scoreless sixth for the A.L.?
A baseball glove in garish orange and blue, the Mets' colors, signed by retiring New York Yankees closer Mariano Rivera.
And while Rivera was named the game's MVP after throwing a perfect eighth, he, Balfour and the eight other American League pitchers used gave the American League club home-field advantage for the World Series.
And that is just fine with the intense Balfour and the under-the-radar-yet-first-place A's, who own a two-game advantage in the American League West.
"We're looking at big things," Balfour said. "Obviously, we start the season and the main goal and the focus is to win the World Series. We've got to go day-by-day, but the long-term goal is to win the World Series and to stop that little streak of the National League winning three games and to have the American League win tonight was huge for us.
"So I hope to be standing here talking to all you guys at Game 1 of the World Series in Oakland, the Coliseum."
Balfour let loose with a nervous laugh. He was no longer too amped up.