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All-Star Palmer heads to Kentucky

June 23, 2003|by BOB PARASILITI

bobp@herald-mail.com

At the beginning of the season, Matt Palmer might have been considered a longshot.

Now, three months later, he's the closest the Hagerstown Suns have to a sure thing.

If Suns manager Mike Ramsey was a betting man, he wouldn't think twice about laying a wager on Palmer's abilities. That's probably why Hagerstown's closer was selected to represent the Suns in Tuesday's South Atlantic League All-Star Game in Lexington, Ky.

"For my money, he's the best closer in this league," Ramsey said. "He has that mentality. He likes to pitch inside. He has that mean streak when he's on the field with an above-average fastball that people aren't comfortable hitting. When he has the ball, he feels like the game is over."

Palmer has become the punctuation in every one of Hagerstown's winning sentences. The right-hander has made 28 appearances and has been involved in 18 of the Suns' 36 wins this season. He is 4-0 with 14 saves and a 1.27 ERA. He has nine walks and 39 strikeouts in 35 1/3 innings. He has held opponents to a .127 batting average.

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Those were impressive enough numbers to get the 6-foot-2, 200-pounder selected to the Northern Division pitching staff. Earlier this season, Palmer had allowed one walk and owned a 0.30 ERA.

All this from a guy who basically was the Suns' first audition for the role of closer.

"I didn't know anything about him coming (into the season)," Ramsey said. "We looked at his numbers from last year and I liked his makeup and attitude, so we gave him the first shot at the job. Nothing was etched in stone, but he came through and made the job his."

The San Francisco Giants organization's hunch paid off huge dividends for the Suns and Palmer. Palmer and Derin McMains were the only Suns to be All-Stars, but McMains won't participate in the game after being promoted to San Jose earlier in the week.

"It's a great honor to go," Palmer said. "It was one of the goals I set for myself at the beginning of the season. It was still a reality shock, though."

Palmer and his attitude have made the most of an opportunity, but he still feels like he benefited from the luck of the draw.

"I go out to be more of a bulldog," Palmer said. "When you are a starter, there are times when you can relax a little, but as a closer, you have to go out after it all the time. I took the opportunity and ran with it. I was glad to get the shot because of all the good pitchers we have in our bullpen. If they had got it first, I might not have got the chance to try. I was lucky."

Palmer's first professional all-star experience will be as much cultural as it will be work. It will be his chance to meet other officials and players in the league, see the home run hitting contest and partake in some of the game's social events.

And, oh yeah, he could pitch an inning, too.

"It's worth the trip," Palmer said. "I just want to pitch to let them see what I can do. I want to be able to represent my team, the Giants and myself the best that I can."

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