KANSAS CITY, Mo. – There was solace in the absence, a sense of inclusion that made Lance Lynn feel as if the appearance was worthwhile.
Never mind that the hulking St. Louis Cardinals starter was one of two National League pitchers – five overall – without a trip to the mound Tuesday night. Or that the resurgent right-hander said afterward that he knew as early as Monday that there was a good chance he would watch the NL’s entire 8-0 victory in the All-Star Game with a scenic view from Kauffman Stadium’s right-field bullpen.
Yes, Lynn’s first night as an All-Star failed to produce a mention in the stat sheet – San Diego Padres right-hander Huston Street was the other NL pitcher who never received a call – but the experience produced benefits all the same.
Example 1: The inclusion meant validation. The All-Star Game was a chance to reflect on progress for the second-year major-leaguer, who completed the season’s first half with an 11-4 record with a 3.41 ERA. When it was over Tuesday, Lynn said, simply, “It was fun to be a part of it, and we were able to win. That’s what it’s all about.”
Example 2: The inclusion meant a chance to grow. Lynn said creating relationships and witnessing the character of some of the game’s best talents will only enhance his ability. He spent the past few days quizzing others to gain a competitive edge, something that allowed a competitive setting to become an academic one as well.
Example 3: The inclusion meant perspective. When asked if the All-Star nod will give him added confidence for the rest of the summer, the Brownsburg, Ind., native responded, “You still have to go in and do your work and try to get better every time out. You can’t bank on being a part of the All-Star Game.” So, no, don’t count on ego impeding his focus.
“For him to step in and start and dominate – that’s a tough word to use, especially in the big leagues. But he has dominated this league so far,” Cardinals third baseman David Freese said Monday. “For him to do what he has done, especially with the load on his shoulders with (Chris Carpenter) going out, that’s a tough load. But he has obviously done the job.”
The job Lynn has done this season stands as one of the Cardinals’ largest surprises. Remember, he had a 3.12 ERA in 34 2/3 innings pitched with two starts last season. Then he began this spring on a tear, all the more important for St. Louis’ starting rotation after nerve irritation in Carpenter’s right shoulder, winning his first six decisions before suffering his first loss against the Atlanta Braves on May 13. Later, he stood 10-2 after a victory over the Chicago White Sox on June 13 before dropping two of his next three decisions. Then he recovered with a scoreless six-inning start in a victory over the Colorado Rockies on July 5, an experience that reminded him “it’s how you bounce back sometimes what makes you what you are.”
So for Lynn, the All-Star experience was more a reward than a reason to spend much thought on why he didn’t receive a chance to earn at least one out. (The other four Cardinals participants received playing time, but Matt Cain’s strong start and the NL’s large early lead complicated plans to use Lynn in the late innings.)
“He comes in this year and takes the responsibility of pitching for Carp, and he’s an All-Star,” National League manager Tony La Russa said Monday. “He’s a very special talent. He’s got a special mentality because he rises to the occasion very well.”
On Monday, Lynn revealed part of that mentality by speaking about how being in the event was good enough for him. Sharing the same clubhouse with a player like Chipper Jones, someone whom Lynn had admired since he was young, was a gift. So was all the possibility that came with being named a first-time All-Star.
“The way Lance has been pitching, you knew he was going to be here,” Cardinals shortstop Rafael Furcal said Monday. “He’s one of the best pitchers right now in the National League. He’s a hard-working kid, and I’m so happy that he’s here.”
So was Lynn, even with an absence that produced benefits not seen in the box score.