If the American League has a lead in the ninth inning of the All-Star Game next month, you can be pretty confident that Mariano Rivera will be coming out of the bullpen to get the last three outs. Rivera has become a staple at the event, making the team in 11 of his 16 career seasons, and is pitching well enough this year to justify yet another selection.
However, if the managers and players select the most worthy candidates to fill the other spots dedicated to relief pitchers, Rivera might be the only guy you recognize in that bullpen. If 2010 was the year of the pitcher, 2011 is the year of the unknown reliever. Let's look at four nearly anonymous bullpen arms who have pitched well enough to earn a spot at the Midsummer Classic.
You could win a lot of bar bets by asking your friends which pitcher leads all American League relievers in both ERA (1.14) and innings pitched (39 1/3). Unless your friends are nerdy Mariners fans, odds are pretty good they won't guess that Pauley is the guy pulling off that trick at the moment. By dramatically cutting his walk rate and inducing a lot of ground balls, Pauley has developed into a solid late-innings option for Eric Wedge after beginning the year penciled into the long-relief role.