07/11/05 8:13 PM ET
Fuentes embraces All-Star selection
Rockies closer is only left-hander in La Russa's bullpen
By Thomas Harding / MLB.com
St. Louis manager Tony La Russa selected Fuentes, 29, to the National League All-Star squad. As the only lefty reliever on the roster, Fuentes figures to come into play if the game is close as La Russa tries to win home-field advantage for the World Series.
"I embrace it," Fuentes said. "I love that. I've never played in a playoff atmosphere in the big leagues, but I've heard it's unbelievable. If it's a close game and I'm in, I know it really means something.
"I think it was a great idea. The home-field advantage has really brought a lot to the game. It's not like the NBA All-Star Game -- you're watching it, but half the time, you're not really watching it anymore."
La Russa already has seen Fuentes pitch in four games this season, and his Cardinals became the victim of the 10th of the hurler's 12 saves on July 2. Fuentes gave up two hits, but ended the Rockies' 3-1 victory by forcing a double play.
"I haven't gotten a chance to talk to him," Fuentes said. "I gave him every opportunity possible for me to blow the save, but it worked out."
The honor was a surprise, considering that Fuentes gave up a combined total of 16 hits and walks in 9 2/3 innings in April. At the time, Fuentes, who entered the season with slightly more than two years of experience, was the second-most experienced bullpen member.
But the Rockies added right-hander Jay Witasick to begin a period in which the bullpen was turned over to veterans.
Fuentes turned a bad event into a good one. Closer Chin-hui Tsao underwent season-ending shoulder surgery in May. Suddenly Fuentes, who closed with less-than-positive reviews when Tsao was out at the start of the season, became Mr. Dependable.
"I think we were maybe a little too young, and everyone kind of fell on their face at the same time," Fuentes said. "Fortunately for me, I had some success before, and I think that saved me. If I was a first-year guy, after the first week of the season they might have been looking to send me down, too."
Colorado is 31-56, marking the worst All-Star break record in club history. However, the development of Fuentes and the bullpen has lifted Colorado to a 16-21 record since June 1.
Fuentes, who was one of the minor players in Colorado's trade that sent former All-Star third baseman Jeff Cirillo to Seattle, but stands as the only player from the deal who has excelled and stayed in place, becomes the third pitcher in the Rockies' 13-season history to represent the organization in the All-Star Game -- a statistic that has at least as much to do with the difficulty of Coors Field for pitchers as it does with the talent of the pitching staffs. The other two, Mike Hampton in 2001 and Shawn Chacon in 2003, were starters.
"To me, it's an occupational hazard, whether it's pitching in New York with the media or pitching in Coors Field with the elevation," Fuentes said. "I pitched with Seattle for only a short amount of time. But most of my experience in the big leagues has been with Colorado, so I really don't know any different."
Pitching in meaningful games, however, will be different.
Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.