Wetmore: Perkins-to-Suzuki All-Star save a moment years in the making
Get the 1500 ESPN SportsWire delivered to your inbox daily, and keep up with all the news in Twin Cities Sports
MINNEAPOLIS -- One of baseball's greatest allures is its unpredictability. Consider, for a moment, the improbability of the Twins-heavy finale in an All-Star Game all about Derek Jeter (and Mike Trout).
Glen Perkins jogged in from the Target Field bullpen in left-center and met teammate Kurt Suzuki on the mound for an abbreviated greeting before cruising together through a perfect ninth inning. Fly out, swinging strikeout, ground out to second base. Ballgame, American League, 5, National League, 3.
An All-Star Game moment neither will soon forget.
For Perkins and Suzuki even to be there Tuesday night was unthinkable, if you trace their narratives back far enough. Years ago, few would have believed a prophecy that foretold they would be All-Star teammates with the Twins in 2014, closing out the game together at Target Field.
Consider where their respective careers once stood.
Perkins was a foundering starter seemingly at odds with the organization five years ago. In 2009, he made 17 starts and had a 5.89 ERA and poor peripheral numbers, including just 4.20 strikeouts per nine innings and 2.15 walks per nine. He had filed a grievance against the organization over the handling of his shoulder injury. Twins reliever Matt Guerrier has suggested this year that given the circumstances back then, he's surprised Perkins is still on the team, let alone one of the dominant relievers in baseball.
"I try not to think about those years. I just wasn't very good," Perkins said Monday. "And it wasn't a very fun part of my career. It's been a lot more fun personally the last four years. Obviously, professionally, we haven't been very good as a team. But these things are fun. This is something that I never thought I'd be doing a couple years ago."
During Monday's media session, Perkins was asked some variation of the same question a dozen or more times: what would a young Glen Perkins from Stillwater think of the odds of being in the All-Star Game in his home state?
"I would have bet anything that I wouldn't [be in an All-Star Game at home]. I don't think the odds of this are very good," Perkins said. "I'm lucky, is basically it. I'm in the right place at the right time. ... It's just a coincidence, and I'm happy the coincidence worked out in my favor."
Perkins was asked several days before his selection to the team what he thought of his chances. He didn't want to talk about it. Now that it has come and gone, what did he think of the chances as recently as two weeks ago?
"Man, probably 50-50. If you would have asked me that day I would have said flip a coin," Perkins said. "Thanks to [Red Sox and A.L. manager] John Farrell, I guess, because he got me here."
When he finally learned of his selection from Twins manager Ron Gardenhire, he said he let out a big sigh of relief. "That was a lot of weight off my shoulders," Perkins said. "That was weighing heavily on a lot of people in my circle."
"It was pretty fun to be able to tell my family that night. We were all waiting for a resolution one way or another".
His catcher's path to Tuesday night's game may have been ever more unlikely.
Suzuki walked on to the Cal State-Fullerton baseball team. There, he became a star. His ascension up the baseball ladder took him all the way to the second round of the 2004 MLB draft, 45 picks after the Twins selected Perkins. And now, it got him to the MLB All-Star Game. It's a rise that perhaps most never would have imagined when he was a high school player in Maui.
"Coming from the island of Maui, you never think realistically that this could happen," Suzuki said Monday of his chance to compete with the best the baseball world has to offer. "A lot of hard work and a lot of support from the friends and family. A little bit of luck, too. I ain't going to lie, there's a little bit of luck involved too. I think that being where I am today is definitely humbling. I'm just trying to enjoy every day."
"I'm walking around," Suzuki said, "and I see [Derek] Jeter and [Jon] Lester and [Jose] Bautista and I'm thinking, 'I'm an All-Star this year.'"
Suzuki started the game on the bench, with Salvador Perez starting in place of the injured Matt Wieters. Derek Norris entered the game in the fifth inning. Suzuki sat, offering words of encouragement in the dugout. Perkins, meanwhile, sat on the bench in the deepest part of the bullpen, waiting for his opportunity. The American League broke a 3-3 tie game with two runs in the fifth. That's when Perkins started to think his vision could become a reality. Suzuki said before the game it's what he would want to happen in an ideal world.
Suzuki left on the bench to catch Perkins, who was gifted a prime save opportunity in the ninth inning of an All-Star Game in his home ballpark, while both punched their ticket as members of the team Perkins grew up rooting for.
Twins manager Ron Gardenhire would not have imagined this.
"But that's the great thing about this All-Star Game. Not too many guys take an easy path here," Gardenhire said. "There's a lot of great stories. ... That's probably the most wonderful thing about this: where guys were and how they got here."
Their circuitous routes to the All-Star Game can be seen as inspiration for any player at any level who has been told he is not good enough. Once upon a time, neither was Perkins, nor was Suzuki. Now, they're playing on the world's biggest stage, going toe-to-toe with the best players in the world.