When the shock faded, after he received the news from manager Ned Yost, Kelvin Herrera called his mother, Maria. She picked up the phone in the Dominican Republic. He told her to pack a bag: She needed to be in Cincinnati on Sunday.
“Oh,” she said, recalling a midseason honor her son received in 2011, “you’re going to the Futures Game!”
“No, no, mami,” Herrera replied. “This is the real game now.”
Four years ago, Herrera represented the Kansas City farm system in the annual prospect showcase. Next week at Great American Ball Park, he will join at least five of his teammates as All-Stars. Herrera, a seventh-inning reliever, is the perhaps the most unlikely selection of the bunch. Yost chose him to stock a relentless, diverse bullpen for the Midsummer Classic.
Herrera, 25, will team with fellow Royal Wade Davis in relief. The club will be represented in the starting lineup by catcher Salvador Perez, shortstop Alcides Escobar and outfielders Lorenzo Cain and Alex Gordon. Third baseman Mike Moustakas is one of the final five candidates to make the club, and his candidacy will be decided in a fan vote this week. Herrera, Davis, Escobar and Cain will all play in the game for the first time.
As manager of the American League side, Yost had the choice to pick five pitchers to join those voted in by the players and coaches around the game. He selected Seattle ace Felix Hernandez and four relievers. Yost sought an eclectic array of choices for his late-game management: Herrera, Tampa Bay right-hander Brad Boxberger, Baltimore side-armer Darren O’Day and Orioles closer Zack Britton.
“It’s kind of like the blueprint that we do here,” Yost said. “It was successful for us last year. If you can get through five innings with those starters, then you’ve got power arms from the back of that ‘pen. Then you try to make it a six-inning game.”
He added, “I guess I’m spoiled having a good bullpen, and I wanted one for this game.”
The players and coaches voted in Davis, who had allowed just one run in 36 innings heading into Tuesday’s doubleheader with Tampa Bay. Yost said he could use Davis for the eighth inning, with Yankees reliever Dellin Betances handling the seventh and Minnesota closer Glen Perkins pitching the ninth.
Davis jumped out of his chair to embrace Yost when he heard about his selection. Herrera appeared stunned with Yost informed him. He stayed seated, and kept repeating “Wake me up” to those nearby.
“I was excited,” Davis said. “I knew there was a chance of it happening, so I was excited to get it. With Kelvin getting in there, too, it was pretty cool to see his reaction.”
Herrera indicated his shock stemmed from the uphill odds facing any noncloser. “It’s always a possibility, because I’m playing,” Herrera said. “But with all those good pitchers out there?”
Heading into Tuesday’s games, Herrera ranked 15th among qualified American League relievers in ERA, 21st in fielding-independent ERA (FIP) and 25th in FanGraphs’ version of wins above replacement. Yet Yost sought also to reward Herrera for his performance last October.
“For me, Kelvin Herrera’s one of the premier set-up guys,” Yost said. “We just happen to throw him in the seventh inning. You match all their numbers together, and Kelvin’s were comparable to all of the main set-up guys.
“The one thing that Kelvin did that a lot of these guys didn’t do was pitch in game seven of the World Series last year. So that was the deciding factor for me.”
Now he will have a chance to display his 100-mph fastball on another national stage. Both Herrera’s mother and his younger brother, Edward, will join him next week in Cincinnati. “They have to be there, right?” he said.
It is an opportunity Herrera never really considered, and an honor he could not comprehend.
“I was like ‘Wow,’” Herrera said. “I couldn’t believe it. I’m so proud right now to represent the Royals organization and Kansas City in the All-Star Game.”