Thornton had been a strike away from some of his better late-inning magic this year on one of the biggest stages of his life, nearly stranding the National League's would-be tying run on third base with one out. Instead, he watched Brian McCann turn on one of his power fastballs and turn it into the three-run double that put the National League ahead for good in the Senior Circuit's first All-Star Game victory since 1996, a 3-1 decision.
In the end, his velocity wasn't enough to overpower the National League.
American League manager Joe Girardi called on Thornton in the seventh inning to replace Girardi's own right-hander, Phil Hughes, once back-to-back singles from Scott Rolen and Matt Holliday put runners at the corners with one out in the seventh inning. His entrance was meant to force National League manager Charlie Manuel to take out Andre Either, the dangerous Dodgers hitter who bats about 50 points lower against left-handed pitching this season.
Enter Arizona's right-handed hitter, Chris Young, who actually has hit slightly lower against left-handed pitching this year but hits .270 off southpaws for his career. Thornton, however, has allowed just a .227 average to right-handed batters this season, striking out 20 of the 76 he has faced in 2010.
He needed more than an out, though. He needed to keep Rolen at third. Three straight fastballs got him the out he needed, a weak popup to White Sox teammate Paul Konerko in foul territory behind first base.
"Matt Thornton gets a big out, Chris Young popping it up," Girardi said afterwards.
The at-bat that turned the game, though, arguably belonged as much to Marlon Byrd for his walk as it did McCann. Byrd has hurt lefties for a .392 average and three home runs in 108 plate appearances this year, but he knew Thornton wasn't a typical left-hander.
"I was hoping he was going to come at me with fastballs," Byrd said. "If he throws the breaking ball, your mind can start spinning little bit. He kept going with the fastballs and I just battled."
All eight pitches Thornton threw to Byrd were fastballs. In fact, all 13 pitches Thornton threw on the night were fastballs, 12 of them at 97 or 98 mph. He flat-out overpowered Byrd on the first two for foul balls to put him in an 0-2 hole, but missed high on the next three. Byrd wasn't chasing, and his reward for it was a full count.
Thornton went right at him with two fastballs over the plate -- one at 97, the next at 98. Byrd fouled off both. Thornton tried to jam him inside, but barely missed the inside corner.
Byrd had faced Thornton just once in his regular-season career, drawing a bases-loaded walk. This one ended up loading the bases and bringing up McCann.
It should've been the lefty-on-lefty matchup Thornton craved. But while McCann has struggled against lefties, nearly half of his 18 hits off them have gone for extra bases. When he connects, he tends to hit it solid.
"Thornton has got one of the best left-handed fastballs in the game," McCann said. You know, I sat on the fastball and tried to get my hands going a little early, and I got a pitch to handle, and luckily I didn't miss it."
It was the second pitch he saw, having fouled off the first one just into the seats, and it went toward the right-field corner to clear the bases.
Thornton left Angel Stadium before the clubhouse opened to reporters, giving no chance to comment. But he left with a blown save, a tough ending to an All-Star experience he generally enjoyed.
"It's been awesome for my family," Thornton said before the game. "It's been a great experience. It's a first-class event all the way across."
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less