Thornton selected to first All-Star Game
Reliever heading to Anaheim after great first half
ARLINGTON -- When the phone first rang in Matt Thornton's Dallas hotel room Sunday morning, the veteran White Sox reliever immediately thought the worst.
"My phone was set to airplane mode because I didn't want people waking me up in the morning," explained Thornton on Sunday evening, prior to the team's series finale with the Rangers. "I had my alarm set up [in the morning] to eat breakfast.
"The hotel phone rang, which it never does, and it was [White Sox director of team travel] Eddie [Cassin]. I instantly got worried about my wife and daughter because my phone was in the off-mode. They have emergency numbers. So it was more of a gratification that my family was OK when Eddie said what had happened."
What had happened for Thornton was he officially had transformed from more than a talented left-handed specialist working out of the deep White Sox bullpen. The hard-throwing southpaw had been anointed as an All-Star, getting the word by phone from Cassin.
In his seventh Major League season, the 33-year-old Thornton was announced as one of seven appointments made by American League manager Joe Girardi during Sunday afternoon's MLB All-Star Selection Show. The first-time All-Star serves as the surging White Sox lone representative for the game to be played on July 13 in Anaheim, although Paul Konerko was chosen as one of the five AL finalists in the 2010 All-Star Game Final Vote Sponsored by Sprint.
To say the selection was a bit of a surprise for Thornton would be more than a bit of an understatement. As far back as one month ago, Thornton spoke of how pitchers working primarily in the setup role, as he does, usually didn't get invited to the Midsummer Classic.
"It's one of those things, I'm kind of in shock that it happened," said a smiling but seemingly low-key Thornton. "They told me today that Girardi called and said I was the one he wanted, so he picked me. That was really something. I'm just worried about the game tonight against Texas and the week before the All-Star break. It changes my All-Star plan a little bit. It went from going to the zoo and maybe visiting the family in Michigan to going to Anaheim and enjoying the festivities of the All-Star game."
"I'm happy for that role being recognized. He's been an All-Star for us for the last couple of years, maybe more than that, three or four years," said Konerko. "That role and the utility role seems to get squeezed out when it comes to the All-Star Game. It's nice to notice a couple of guys who made the team in both leagues who kind of fall into that. It's about teams winning games and those guys are crucial spots and don't get recognized in that game a lot."
Thornton leads the AL with 47 strikeouts as a reliever and is second in strikeouts per nine innings at 12.56. Thornton would have a 1.62 ERA overall if not for five runs allowed in one-third of an inning during a loss to the Tigers on June 8. The 2-3 Thornton has four saves and has held opposing hitters to a .195 average, while walking just seven unintentionally over 33 2/3 innings and giving up one home run to Detroit's rookie phenom Brennan Boesch.
Fans, having already decided the starters and this week the final player on each team, once again will have the opportunity to participate in the official voting for the Ted Williams Most Valuable Player presented by Chevy via the 2010 All-Star Game MVP Vote Sponsored by Sprint on MLB.com during the All-Star Game.
The 81st Major League Baseball All-Star Game will be televised nationally by FOX Sports, in Canada by Rogers Sportsnet and Sportsnet HD and Le Reseau des Sports, and around the world by Major League Baseball International, with pregame ceremonies beginning at 7 p.m. ET. ESPN Radio will provide exclusive national radio coverage. MLB Network, MLB.com and Sirius XM also will provide comprehensive All-Star Game coverage.
Carrying a reputation as one of the most dominant relievers in the game clearly rises above the need for 20 saves on a resume where Thornton is concerned. Thornton is the lone AL All-Star reliever not considered a pure closer, although Cincinnati's Arthur Rhodes and Pittsburgh's Evan Meek were chosen as National League All-Stars as setup men.
"I can remember the day we picked him up, for crying out loud," said White Sox pitching coach Don Cooper of Thornton, who was acquired from Seattle for Joe Borchard in a trade on March 20, 2006. "His rise over the last five years, it is nice to have a front seat for that.
"Looking back, I remember the day I taught him to throw that 98 mph fastball," said Cooper with a laugh.
In the bigger picture, the White Sox consider themselves playoff contenders and want the AL to top the NL once again for a chance at home-field advantage in the World Series. Thornton presents a solid late-inning option against left-handed power hitters such as Ryan Howard or Adrian Gonzalez, although Thornton can handle righties like Albert Pujols just as well.
"There will be some tough left-handed hitters that come up late in the game," Konerko said. "And I couldn't think of a better left-hander to have out there than him."
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.