If you were among those who did not make it through all 15 innings of the thrilling major league All-Star Game then you probably have no idea how major the roles were of the two players who started their professional careers in Independent Baseball.
They could not have been more important in the American League's 4-3 triumph in the longest game by time in the history of this classic that started in 1933. And that is not just this typist beating the drum, either, as we have been doing in this space and more extensively in our weekly subscriber-only Independent Baseball Insider column.
J. D. Drew, who played with the St. Paul (MN) Saints in 1997 and 1998, was named Most Valuable Player, and rightly so because it was his two-run seventh inning home run off Cincinnati's Edinson Volquez which pulled the A. L. even at 2-2. Drew, the Boston Red Sox rightfielder, also drew a key walk in the bottom of the 15th to move Justin Morneau to third base and load the bases. Michael Young's sacrifice fly scored Morneau with the winning run, ending the dramatic evening at Yankee Stadium. Drew's night also included a single so he was on base three times and officially went 2-for-4.
Baltimore closer George Sherrill hurled two and one-third scoreless innings, and was full of dramatics. The former Frontier League and Northern League southpaw, who needed four and a half years in the Indy leagues before Seattle gave him a chance in 2003, came into the game with the National League having a runner at each base and two outs in the top of the 12th. He promptly fanned San Diego's Adrian Gonzalez to get out of that jam.
The 31-year-old Sherrill, who has 28 saves this season, allowed only one of the next seven N.L. hitters to reach base. The Mets' David Wright got a soft single to center to lead off the 13th, then Sherrill fielded Cristian Guzman's bunt and got a force on Wright at second. He struck out Corey Hart and got Ryan Ludwick to pop to second. In the 14th, the former Evansville, IN and Winnipeg hurler got Nate McLouth and Russell Martin on flies to Drew and Miguel Tejada on a grounder to short to end his night's work. Sherrill used a tidy 25 pitches, 18 of which were strikes.
The only previous player who started in an Independent league and eventually played in the All-Star Game was another Winnipeg reliever, Jeff Zimmerman. He was in the 1999 contest at Fenway Park while a member of the Texas Rangers.
UNITED LEAGUE TOPS GOLDEN BEFORE FULL HOUSE IN TEXAS
The only All-Star Game between two Independent leagues also took part Tuesday night with the United League besting the Golden League 8-5 before a sellout crowd of 4,421 at Foster Field in San Angelo, TX.
Twenty-three-year-old catcher Luany Sanchez of the Laredo (TX) Broncos blasted two home runs and drove in four to earn MVP honors. His three-run clout in the second gave the United League a lead it never surrendered.
We will be writing about more All-Star Games, including those in the affiliated minor leagues, in this week's Independent Baseball Insider which comes out on Thursday.