Joyce seizes All-Star opportunities at the dish
Rays outfielder makes mark on Midsummer Classic with single
PHOENIX -- It was not the first impression made by Matt Joyce. The outfielder, after all, had been knocking around Tampa Bay's lineup for three years.But it was the lasting impression, that .414 average in May. His peers couldn't forget about it when they grabbed pen and paper to cast their votes for the American League All-Star outfield. And that is how an outfielder gets to the 82nd All-Star Game by hitting .163 the last six weeks into the break. Joyce was chosen by fellow players as a testament to that fabulous run that left him leading the AL in hitting -- but also as a reward for a lifetime of against-the-odds perseverance. "After my last month, I didn't expect to get in," said Joyce, whose average has sunk from a high of .377 on May 27 to .290. "The month of May was really good for me. After that month, I was on cloud nine. I thought I had a really good shot at it."
But Joyce's best shot came in the ninth inning of Tuesday night's Midseason Classic when, in his second at-bat of a game he had entered in the sixth inning, he ripped a single into Chase Field's right field off flame-throwing Pirates closer Joel Hanrahan.Even after the AL's 5-1 defeat, Joyce was back on cloud nine. "Awesome. Such a thrill," he said. "Just to be here and on the field with all these great players, facing the best pitchers in the world ... and then to get a hit. What an honor." Joyce's name wasn't the only one called when the Rays were introduced prior to the game. Pitchers David Price and James Shields also jogged out to the first-base foul line at Chase Field. But the 26-year-old hometown hero was the only Rays player on the AL's active roster. Shields had pitched Sunday and Price, the league's starter in last summer's All-Star Game, got a medical out with turf toe. Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon had sent him off to Phoenix with direct orders: "Matt's got to shine for the Rays." Joyce was bright enough, writing another chapter of his breakthrough season -- even if not as boldfaced as he'd hoped and had come close to. "I wish I'd gotten a little more under that pitch," he said, citing all that would've been needed to lift the hard-hit ball and lift it over the fence. "In batting practice, guys were getting on me because I wasn't pulling the ball with any pop. So I really tried to drive it. I'll take the hit." Two innings earlier, Joyce had grounded out to short, in a non-productive yet helpful out. For one thing, it brought about one of those brief reunions that adds to the charm of the All-AStar Game. He was facing Jair Jurrjens, Atlanta's ace and one of the NL's best pitchers. But back in 2007, Jurrjens was a teammate of Joyce in Erie, the Tigers' Double-A affiliate. "When I stepped in the box, I tried to get JJ's attention and tip my cap," Joyce said. "But he was too locked in to respond." That first at-bat calmed Joyce's nerves for a second opportunity. "I'm watching these guys taking at-bats and treating it like exactly any other game," he said, referring to All-Star veterans. "And I've got so much adrenaline. "The second time, I was able to control it a little better." Joyce's out-of-action Tampa Bay pals included fellow outfielder Sam (Flyin') Fuld, who for all appearances was imported to provide protection for TV crews during Monday night's State Farm Home Run Derby. When one of the kids shagging balls during the Derby made a spectacular diving catch in short center, Joyce had the same reaction as others: "I thought Sam somehow got out there, and was diving all over the place." Joyce would've understood. He, too, would've done anything to get on an All-Star Game field. Having been invited there by his fellow players just made it more gratifying.