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Long road to Classic for Padres All-Stars

Long road to Classic for Padres All-Stars

ST. LOUIS -- It took a three-hour layover in Las Vegas, a 2 a.m. flight to Indianapolis and a four-hour minivan ride at 6 a.m., but Padres All-Stars Heath Bell and Adrian Gonzalez finally arrived in St. Louis for the 80th Major League Baseball All-Star Game about an hour before meeting with the media Monday morning.

The two, along with Gonzalez's wife, Betsy, and Padres batting practice pitcher Ray Krohn -- who will throw to Gonzalez in Monday night's State Farm Home Run Derby -- missed their connecting flight to St. Louis in Indianapolis after a mechanical delay in Las Vegas caused their plane to leave almost two hours late.

The next flight from Indy wouldn't have gotten the Padres All-Stars into St. Louis until 2 p.m. local time Monday so they decided to pull an audible.

"Me and Adrian looked at each other and he goes, 'I'll go get the luggage' and I go, 'I'll go rent a car,'" Bell said. "So we got a minivan and drove here from Indianapolis this morning. We left at 6 a.m. and have been going ever since."

So here is a participant in the Home Run Derby later that night and a guy experiencing his first All-Star Game, riding down Interstate 70 in a Thrifty rented minivan at 6 a.m. as they hurry to make it to St. Louis in time for the festivities.

"We got in there and we were like, 'Who needs a stinkin' radio?' like 'Dumb and Dumber' so we started singing like they did and talking about movies," Bell said. "We would yell, 'Hey!' and the other person would say, 'What?' and then we'd go, 'No, look, hay. There's hay out there.'"

Gonzalez, who drove the minivan because Bell was afraid he would get a speeding ticket, drank a cup of Starbucks coffee as he talked about his 16-hour trip to St. Louis.

"It was definitely not the way we wrote it up, that's for sure," Gonzalez said. "But were here safely, thank God. I'm definitely tired. I'm exhausted. I got about two hours of sleep in me right now, but just going to try to stay on the coffee fumes the rest of the time."

Bell is tied for the National League lead with 23 saves in 24 opportunities -- not bad for a guy who entered the season having to replace the Major League career saves leader, Trevor Hoffman, who has moved on to Milwaukee.

Bell, who was a closer in the Minor Leagues but served as the Padres' eighth-inning setup man the last two seasons, has a 1.99 ERA. The righty has been especially tough on right-handed batters, limiting them to a .086 batting average.

"You never know until the season plays out, but it doesn't surprise me," Padres manager Bud Black said. "He has been as consistent as any closer in the league. He's been steady all the way through, from the first game. He's pitching outstanding.

"What you want is consistency in performance, and that's what we're getting out of him. You can count on him. That's what you want out of any of your guys."

The trip to St. Louis took almost 16 hours but Bell can finally relax.

"I'm an All-Star now," Bell said. "I always joke around that I'm never going to be what Trevor is in San Diego, but I really do want to be No. 2. I donut think anybody really says I want to be No. 2. But I do. I'm having a blast. I hope this is the first of many."

Gonzalez is appearing in his second All-Star Game in as many years. He went 1-for-3 with a sacrifice fly as the National League lost, 4-3, in 15 innings to the American League.

Gonzalez started this season by hitting home runs right out of the chute, hitting 20 in the first two months of the season before walking a club-record 32 times in June as opposing pitchers chose to pass on serving him up good pitches.

"They aren't throwing that many strikes to me anymore," Gonzalez said. "After I got off to that streak, they started not pitching to me. Lately they have been pitching to me a little bit more but not really, just kind of picking their situations when there is nobody on base. It's been a different experience for me.

"You put a little bit extra pressure on yourself, and I'm a guy that really wants to help the team win and I put pressure on myself to do what I can when I feel that they are going to pitch to me. I tend to try a little harder and stuff, but it's a part of the game. It's a learning process. I'm glad it's happening to me now so in the future when we are in the pennant race and this is happening, I will have been through it and know what to expect."

Gonzalez is hitting .250 with 24 home runs and 52 RBIs this season and has now played in 293 consecutive games, dating back to Aug. 15, 2007. He's tied with Adam Dunn for the second-most walks in the league with 67, trailing Albert Pujols of the Cardinals.

And while the journey to St. Louis was less than glamorous, the two weren't going to let it dampen their experience.

"With Heath around," Gonzalez said. "It's always a good time."

B.J. Rains is an associate reporter for MLB.com. Corey Brock is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

{"content":["all-star_game" ] }
{"content":["all-star_game" ] }