Opposites Heath Bell, Derek Jeter key Team USA win over Yankees
TAMPA, Fla. -- On Monday afternoon,
After an all-night flight that got him to Tampa around 10 o'clock Tuesday morning and with no time to head to the team hotel in nearby Clearwater, Bell made it to Legends Field in time for Team USA's World Baseball Classic exhibition opener against the Yankees. By the seventh inning, he was on the mound and on his game, demonstrating that he, and not someone from the roster of All-Stars (see
Enter Bell, who was originally told he would not pitch on Tuesday but nevertheless entered the game in the bottom of the seventh with the U.S. leading 6-4. He promptly struck out the side, making him the only American pitcher to not allow a baserunner and fueling hope that he can be relied upon when the games start to matter. Granted, his victims --
Bell, too, can help solve another of Team USA's most pressing needs. His engaging and light-hearted personality is exactly what U.S. manager
There was no particular reason for that, but if Bell was hoping to maintain his anonymity, he may be out of luck. This particular masked man is about to be revealed. He is expected to take over the closer's role from departed all-time saves king
Bell was planning on watching the event, not playing a potentially critical role in it. His locker in Peoria is adorned with both American and Mexican flags as a show of support for his teammates who were already headed to the WBC. When Bell found out he would be joining them, "I was basically like a kid at Christmas. When [Padres general manager
Perhaps the most impressive part of Bell's day was that he managed to steal some of Derek Jeter's thunder. Jeter is Bell's polar opposite on the club on everything from All-Star appearances (Jeter has nine, Bell none) to postseason success (Jeter has four World Series rings, Bell has never pitched in a playoff game) to Q rating, and while Bell was the last player added to the roster, Jeter was the first. Appropriately enough, as a veteran of the first WBC, Jeter was also named team captain, giving him the rare distinction on Tuesday of being the captain of both teams on the field.
While Bell offered a ringing endorsement of his ability and value on the mound, Jeter did likewise at the plate. With two hits and a walk, he was the only player on Team USA to register a multi-hit game and the only one to reach base three times. He also delivered the go-ahead two-run single in the third inning that gave the U.S. a lead it would not relinquish.
While Bell was ecstatic at his inclusion, the more reserved Jeter was, in his usual way, the picture of understatement. Aside from almost running to the wrong dugout a couple of times, and being shouted at by
Jeter's mere presence was enough to make a couple of players, notably
Jeter's influence over Wright and Rollins could be even more significant. His locker, for one day at least, was located in between theirs and Wright half-jokingly indicated Jeter had already helped broker a truce between the leaders of the NL East rivals. "We signed a three-week treaty and promised not to talk about who the team to beat is," said Wright.
That's a phrase Rollins made famous with his preseason boast that the Phillies were the team to beat in 2007, which he then backed up with an MVP season to help Philadelphia overtake the Mets in September. It's also the same phrase U.S. manager Johnson used for his club, and when he was asked Tuesday if he still believed that, Johnson said "No doubt about it." Thanks to his first player providing his usual mixture of offense and clubhouse leadership and his last player helping patch a suddenly leaky bullpen, he may very well be right.