Jenks earns second All-Star bid
Closer White Sox lone representative for Midsummer Classic
KANSAS CITY -- Checking in at 6-foot-3 and 275 pounds, Bobby Jenks would seem better suited to be anchoring the Chicago Bears defensive line then closing out games for the White Sox.
But Jenks truly is a pitcher, having developed into one of the best closers in all of baseball in just his second full year on the job. He has a fastball known to touch 100 mph -- though it has primarily been in the 95-to-96 mph range in the 2007 campaign -- and a big breaking curve known to mesmerize opposing hitters.
As of Sunday, Jenks also has a second career All-Star selection to put on his resume. Jenks was chosen by manager Jim Leyland as the White Sox representative, a far cry from the 2006 Midsummer Classic, when Mark Buehrle, Jose Contreras, A.J. Pierzynski, Paul Konerko, Jim Thome and Jermaine Dye joined the burly right-hander in Pittsburgh.
Ozzie Guillen said Saturday that he recommended Jenks, Buehrle and Javier Vazquez as his possible All-Star candidates when asked by Leyland this weekend. But with a 35-43 record and no players voted in by the fans or their peers, the White Sox were limited to Jenks.
"It could be the complete opposite of last year," said Jenks with a smile, after pitching a scoreless ninth to finish off Sunday's 3-1 victory over Kansas City. "Last year, I went with six other teammates. I had that little bit of a comfort zone.
"Now, I'm going in there on a solo mission. I have to represent."
Jenks did not pitch in last year's game, coming off 2 2/3 innings of work in a 19-inning victory over Boston in the Sox final contest before the All-Star break. He could serve as Leyland's last line of pitching defense on July 10 in San Francisco, with fellow closers Jonathon Papelbon, J.J. Putz and Francisco Rodriguez also making the team.
"That would be great, if I can get in for an inning," Jenks said.
Factoring in Sunday's afternoon contest, Jenks has a 2-3 record with a team-best 2.76 ERA in 34 appearances. He also has posted 22 saves in 24 appearances, a fairly telling statistic in regard to his overall value, as the White Sox only have 35 victories as a team. Jenks has had a hand in 63 percent of those wins.
Since the start of the 2006 season, Jenks ranks third in all of baseball with 63 saves. Only the Angels' Rodriguez (71) and all-time saves leader Trevor Hoffman (69), a National League All-Star selection, have more saves in that time.
Currently, Jenks ranks fourth in the American League with his 22 saves and sits eighth in all of baseball. He has fanned 29 over 32 2/3 innings, but of greater importance, Jenks has given up just 25 hits and 10 walks, while allowing just one homer. The White Sox closer has become much more of a polished pitcher than simply a young man with an overpowering fastball to throw past hitters.
This ride to stardom for Jenks began on July 5, 2005, when he was called up from Double-A Birmingham to join the White Sox run to the postseason. He averaged 11.44 strikeouts per nine innings over 32 games that season and eventually took over the closer's role from Dustin Hermanson.
It was Jenks on the mound for the final out of the AL Central-clinching game in Detroit that season, as well as closing out the first two victories in Cleveland the ensuing weekend, eliminating the Indians from the playoffs and ending their late-season push against the White Sox. Jenks also became the first rookie in Major League history to earn the save in the clinching game of the World Series, making the pitch to retire Orlando Palmeiro on a ground ball to shortstop Juan Uribe, finishing off the Astros in four games.
But Jenks has transformed from rookie phenom to established veteran, with 69 saves in 77 opportunities for his career. It's somewhat ironic how the lone All-Star selection for the White Sox came from their bullpen, considering it has been the team's Achilles' heel through the first half.
The one consistent force from that group has been Jenks, who has traveled from a starting pitcher who didn't fulfill his promise in the Angels' Minor League system to one of the game's premier closers.
"When he gets hot, you've all seen what he can do, and he's doing it now," said White Sox starter Jon Garland, who earned the victory Sunday with help from Jenks.
"He deserves it," Guillen added. "This kid over the years, I feel proud of the kid. When he got here, we brought him up to the big leagues from Double-A and all of a sudden this is going to be his second All-Star Game. He's the only guy who really deserves to be there [from our team]. Hopefully, he has more coming up."
The 78th Major League Baseball All-Star Game, which will be held July 10 at San Francisco's AT&T Park, will be televised nationally by FOX Sports, in Canada by Rogers Sportsnet and Sportsnet HD and televised around the world by Major League Baseball International, with pregame ceremonies beginning at 7 p.m. CT. ESPN Radio will provide exclusive national radio coverage, while MLB.com will provide extensive online coverage. XM will provide satellite radio play-by-play coverage of the XM All-Star Futures Game.
The 2003 season marked the introduction of the Player Ballot to the All-Star selection process. Each league's players, managers and coaches elect eight position players and eight pitchers from their league. Catchers and infielders who finish in the top two at their position on the Player Ballot, and outfielders among the top six, are assured of making the All-Star Team. In instances where the winners of the Player Ballot are also fan-elected starters, the player with the next highest amount of votes on the Player Ballot makes the All-Star Team. Eight pitchers -- five starters and three relievers -- become All-Stars through the Player Ballot. The manager of each World Series team from the prior season -- in this year's case, Detroit's Jim Leyland and St. Louis' Tony La Russa -- then fills the remaining slots on their respective teams, ensuring that one player from all 30 clubs is named to the All-Star Game.
While Jenks won't have any White Sox teammates with him in San Francisco, there will be a few familiar faces taking part in the festivities. The Cubs' Derrek Lee and Alfonso Soriano both were selected via the NL players ballot, as was Houston's Carlos Lee. Philadelphia's Aaron Rowand was an NL manager's selection made by Tony La Russa, while Magglio Ordonez was voted in as an AL outfield starter by the fans.
Lee, Rowand and Ordonez made up the White Sox starting outfield for parts of the 2003 and 2004 seasons. But the current White Sox seemed to be most pleased by Rowand's first All-Star nod.
"Oh, great," Guillen said. "Wow. The way this kid's playing right now, the way Rowand plays all the time, but having the numbers he put up this year, I think it's great. It's an honor to go for your first time. But he always plays like an All-Star, plays hard for any team."
"Defensively, he could probably be on that team every year," added Garland of Rowand. "But offensively, he's put it together for that Philly team and has a good year going."
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.