07/14/2004 1:42 AM ET
Lilly cherishes first experience
By Gary Washburn / MLB.com
HOUSTON -- If Ted Lilly is this good on just two days' rest, then the Toronto Blue Jays have something to look forward to in the second half.
|Ted Lilly pitches against the National League in the sixth inning Tuesday. (Charles Krupa/AP)
Lilly was not expected to pitch in Tuesday's 75th All-Star Game at Minute Maid Park. He made the trip to Houston having tossed 6 2/3 innings on Saturday against Anaheim and thought he would just hang out in the bullpen.
Instead, in the fifth inning, manager Joe Torre summoned Lilly to begin warming up and he was on the mound trying to protect a 9-4 lead in the bottom of the sixth.
The first two batters Lilly faced, Moises Alou and Mark Loretta, hit bloop singles to give the National League a legitimate scoring threat. Perhaps the NL could rally off a weary Lilly and make it a more competitive game.
Not quite. Lilly quickly extinguished the jam by getting three quick outs, including a strikeout of Jim Thome to end the inning.
"It was really nice to get out of that jam, especially against one of the best hitters in the game," Lilly said. "It was an experience I will never forget, to be able to be on the field with some of the greatest players in the game."
Lilly entered the game without those eye-popping All-Star stats. He was 7-6 with a 4.27 ERA but was the most deserving of a Blue Jays club besieged by injuries and subpar performances. Carlos Delgado and Vernon Wells both spent significant time on the disabled list, while 2003 Cy Young Award winner Roy Halladay had an injury-plagued and inconsistent first half.
So Lilly cherished his first All-Star experience and looked at everything else as just a bonus.
"Getting in the game was just icing on the cake," he said. "Obviously (pitching in the game) is something you'd like to do but even if I wasn't able to do that, getting to know guys like this was awesome."
After Alou and Loretta reached base, Lilly induced a popup to shortstop from hometown hero Carlos Beltran. Jack Wilson, the NL leader in hits, smoked a liner to left field that was run down by the speedy Carl Crawford.
Thome then stepped to the plate, and Lilly threw a fastball and changeup for balls. Thome then whiffed at a 74 mph slider and 93 mph fastball. Lilly countered with a fastball that was fouled off down the right-field line.
The mental games were at its peak. Would Lilly throw a 2-2 fastball or slider? Lilly had not established his slider for a strike and was more successful with his fastball. So what does he do? He throws a wicked 84 mph slider that completely fools Thome, who strikes out swinging.
"I think he was looking fastball, I had just thrown two fastballs in a row," he said. "The best thing that I did there was keep the ball down. If I throw a slider for a strike, he's got a good opportunity to make a lot of fans happy."
Lilly was pleased with his performance on short rest. The NL did not get a hit after the sixth and he stuffed out a potential big rally.
"I was pitching off adrenalin," Lilly said. "I felt like I made some good pitches, but shoot, these are some of the hitters in the game. You can't expect to go up there and dominate. It was fun, something I won't forget."
Gary Washburn is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.