NL All-Star roster
ST. PETERSBURG -- Lance Carter was sitting in the bullpen before Sunday's game at Tropicana Field, when he got word that Lou Piniella wanted to see him.
"I said to myself, 'This can't be good,' ''Carter said. "I thought it was bad news. Then, when Lou (Piniella) told me, my initial reaction was, 'You sure?' ''
Carter, a 28-year-old rookie closer, was chosen as the Rays' lone representative to this year's Major League All-Star Game in Chicago.
"I was just like everyone else, thinking it was going to be Rocco (Baldelli) or Huffy (Aubrey Huff),'' Carter said. "I was planning on going golfing and fishing. I'm probably as surprised as you are.
"But it's definitely an honor. I told my dad (Zeb) while I was sitting in the bullpen and he was just as shocked as I was. And he didn't have his cell phone, so he couldn't tell my mom.
"But I'm blessed to be able to do this for a living. Somebody is smiling down on me today.''
Carter is currently ninth in the AL in saves with 14. He has a win or a save in 19 of Tampa Bay's 30 victories this season and has closed out 22 of the wins. And, since saves became an official stat in 1969, only five other rookies have had more saves than Carter before the All-Star game.
"I'm happy for Lance,'' Piniella said. "He's a class kid who works hard and took over a tough job in Spring Training. He's struggled a little lately, but overall, he has done a fine job for us.''
Carter said that the last All-Star game he played in was in Double-A, the Texas League, in 1999.
"I plan to call a buddy of mine, (Minnesota's) Joe Mays, who played in the (Major League All-Star) Game a couple of years ago,'' Carter said. "I remember he said it was quite an event.''
Carter said he’s not sure what to expect in the game, but he plans to keep on doing what got him to this point.
"I'm sure it will be nerve-wracking at first,'' Carter said. "But I just want to throw strikes and try to get hitters out.''
The fact that Carter is in the Major Leagues is an amazing story in itself.
He has survived two Tommy John surgeries on his right elbow and missed all of the 1997 and 2001 seasons. He made his Major League debut with the Royals in 1999 and went 0-1 with a 5.06 ERA in six games.
But the Royals released him and, before the 2002 season, he was still looking for a job in pro baseball. He spent most of his time working out in his hometown in nearby Bradenton, Fla.
At that time, Hal McRae was the Rays' manager, also living in Bradenton. Carter knew McRae's son, Cullen, and asked Cullen if his dad would be open to watching a workout.
Carter impressed the Rays in a short session and he was signed and sent to Triple-A Durham. He went 12-2 with a 2.80 ERA for the Bulls, mostly as a starter. He joined the Rays in September and went 2-0 with a 1.33 ERA in eight relief appearances.
Carter earned a spot at the end of the bullpen with a solid Spring Training and has converted 14 of 20 save chances so far.
"Everybody's happy for Lance,'' Huff said. "He's been through a lot and done a nice job for us.''
Baldelli has had an impressive first half-season, but did not seem too disappointed he was not selected.
"I did not know what to expect,'' Baldelli said. "There are some (personal) positives in it, in that I get three days of rest. I think I'll go fishing for three days.
"(As for) Lance, he has done a tremendous job this year. He was put into a role he had never had before, and that's not easy to deal with. I'm happy for him. We're all happy for him."
Paul C. Smith is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.