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Guillen nearly the hero in thriller

Guillen nearly the hero in thriller

NEW YORK -- Carlos Guillen finally has his first career All-Star Game hit in his third Midsummer Classic. He nearly had his first All-Star walk-off home run.

"I didn't know I had that kind of power," Guillen joked in the wee hours of Wednesday morning.

For a game in which Guillen was expected to be the last position player on the American League bench, if he played at all, the Tigers third baseman had a pretty full game. He entered in the eighth inning as a pinch-hitter, and still ended up with four plate appearances. One of them nearly made him a hero.

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For someone who ended a game last year at 3:30 in the morning, it's all in a night's work. When asked if it was hard to focus in a 15-inning All-Star Game, Guillen shrugged off the fatigue.

"No," he said, "I think you focus more. I think you stay more in the game. You maybe stay more aggressive, but at the same time, you're patient."

To stay fresh in this test of endurance took some patience.

"You have to be ready for any kind of situation," Guillen said. "You never know in this game."

Guillen's versatility to play all infield positions plus left field left him as one of the last men on the AL bench before he pinch-hit for Joe Crede with one out in the eighth. AL All-Star manager Terry Francona warned Guillen beforehand that he could be left as the odd man out.

"He plays everywhere," Francona said before the game. "It's a little hard. I kind of talked to him."

Guillen did his best to make the most of his opportunity. He battled Giants closer Brian Wilson for a nine-pitch at-bat, fouling off everything from a 72-mph offspeed pitch to a 97-mph fastball after falling to a 1-2 count. Guillen worked the count full before Wilson's third consecutive fastball -- again at 97 -- got him to chase and miss.

Guillen came back up in the 10th with runners at the corners, including the potential winning run at third. It would've been a perfect situation for his first All-Star hit, but he didn't get the chance. Rockies right-hander Aaron Cook intentionally walked him, leaving him still hitless.

Guillen was back up to lead off the 12th, when he provided his near-blast as Cook began his third inning of work. Batting left-handed, Guillen went after a first-pitch fastball and poked it to left field. The ball kept carrying towards the left-field corner and over Ryan Ludwick until it bounced off the fence.

Despite his coy surprise, Guillen was optimistic about the hit.

"Yeah, I thought it had a pretty good chance," Guillen said. "I thought I hit it pretty good. I didn't know how it close it was, but it was pretty close."

Guillen reached third base on Grady Sizemore's groundout, but neither Evan Longoria nor Ian Kinsler could get him in. And the game went on.

"When you prepare yourself for the game," Guillen said, "you have to prepare yourself to play one inning or nine innings the same way."

By the time Michael Young's sacrifice fly ended it, Guillen might well have played more innings than he would have if he had started.

Barring a postseason matchup, this will serve as the long, long farewell for Guillen and Tigers manager Jim Leyland to Yankee Stadium. All these years, neither Guillen nor Leyland had been in the home clubhouse before. After all those series in the smaller road quarters, this was a comparative luxury.

"This is impressive," Leyland said before the AL All-Stars took batting practice.

It wasn't just the surroundings. Leyland said he spent a half-hour in the clubhouse lounge listening to stories. The storyteller was Hall of Famer Yogi Berra, the catcher Leyland idolized growing up in Perrysburg, Ohio.

Francona, ironically, mentioned his time with Leyland among his favorite parts of his All-Star experience. As the game itself continued, Leyland was clearly Francona's assistant and confidant, checking strategies and checking on players.

When this game ended, they hugged.

"I told Jim Leyland, 'I'll quit cursing, I'll quit chewing,'" Francona said after the game. "I lied."

Leyland also spent a brief time in the coach's box behind third base. It was his first time as a base coach since he had the honors at the 1994 All-Star Game in Pittsburgh, where he was managing the Pirates at the time. Until Tuesday, that '94 Midsummer Classic was his only base-coaching stint since his days assisting Tony La Russa in the early 1980s with the Chicago White Sox.

Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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