In 2009, as we rolled our way toward the break, the question seemed to be not if Dan Haren would make the All-Star team for the National League. That appeared to be little in doubt, as he racked up great outing after great outing. The question, to which we were already anticipating the answer, was whether he would follow in the foot-steps of Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling, and get to start the game? However, there's many a slip 'twixt cup and lip, as the proverb goes, and so it turned out for Haren.
Haren's first-half had been incredible: not just one of the best that year, but of the best half-seasons in franchise history. He posted a 2.01 ERA, a number surpassed only by Randy Johnson's 1.80 from before the break in 2000. 17 of Haren's 18 appearances were quality starts. He went seven innings or more in fourteen of those games, and held opponents to a line of .189/.219/.311. He struck out 129 batters in 130 frames of work and walked sixteen. That's a K:BB ratio of better than 8:1, and less than one free pass per game.
The only problem was, there were a lot of other pitchers having first-halves that were almost as good. Here's the top ten in the NL by ERA over the first-half of 2007 (min,. 80 IP).
Not exactly a bunch of stiffs, admittedly. But any neutral observer would have to agree, Haren's numbers were simply outstanding, making him an obvious shoo-in to be picked by his peers as one of the five starting pitchers on the roster. Except, he wasn't. While we may - justifiably - often criticize the fans for their voting, the players' balloting seemed more inexplicable yet. Haren didn't make the top five, and two of those who did aren't even present on the chart above. Chad Billingsley made it, with a 3.38 ERA, while topping the entire poll was Johan Santana, whose 3.09 ERA left him also outside the top ten.
It may have been a question of timing.: one suspects the ballots from the players were collected around the end of May or thereabout. For Santana's ERA through that point was 1.77, and after Billingsley's start on June 3, his ERA was 2.59. Meanwhile, Dan was just getting into his best form. Though hardly slacking - his ERA never even came close to three at any point before the break - from the beginning of June through the break, Haren made seven starts and had a 1.37 ERA in them. By that point, it might have been too late, and it took Charlie Manuel to add him as a managerial selection, for Haren to make the roster at all.
But hey, given he was there, and had the best ERA, by quite some distance, of the starters on the roster, he seemed the obvious choice to start. However, Manuel opted for Lincecum instead, despite a dubious past which had seen Timmeh hospitalized on the morning of the previous All-Star Game with "dehydration.", causing Lincecum to suggest that this time, he was "going to have Cain put a leash around my neck and keep me in my room." It would have been particularly nice for Haren to have got the start in Busch Stadium, as he had been a Cardinals' prospect,, making his debut for them as a 22-year old in 2003.
There was perhaps an even less justifiable decision for the AL, where Zach Grienke (ERA 2.12) was overlooked in favor of Roy Halladay (2.85), a choice described as "hard to explain". Greinke was leading the league in ERA and strikeouts, and tied for the lead in wins. Both he and Haren were relegated to coming in from the bullpen to work the fourth inning, something which our ace found a bit hard to handle. "It's different coming in out of the bullpen. It's tough to get loose." They had the last laugh, the announced starters struggling. Lincecum gave up two knocks and hit another batter in his two-run first inning, while Halladay allowed four straight hits, leading to three runs.
Admittedly, the starters were not helped by their defense, as errors helped extend the innings. But as Dan Haren gave the National League a scoreless fourth inning on just 12 pitches, he might have been forgiven for sporting a slightly-smug smile - I know Diamondbacks' fans certainly were. He retired Jason Bay and Josh Hamilton on fly balls, then worked around a two-out single by Michael Young, getting Aaron Hill to ground out. He sais, "I felt good when I was out there and tried to have as much fun as I could with it. They seemed pretty aggressive, swinging at the first pitch a couple of times. They didn't let me get comfortable."
Haren also came away from the day possessing a picture of himself with President Barack Obama, who attended the game, and his 0.00 ERA outing was a fitting climax to one of the best spells of pitching anyone has ever thrown for the Diamondbacks. Dan's season would largely go downhill thereafter, with a second-half ERA of 4.62, though he still managed seven quality starts in 15 games, and finished fifth in the Cy Young voting for the year [which sounds a lot better than "he got one fifth-place vote," which is also true!] For now, he is the last Arizona pitcher to appear in the ASG, but one senses it may not be all that long before the next candidate to start comes along.