The San Diego Padres’ Sunday afternoon loss to the Philadelphia Phillies helped make one Padre who didn’t even play look like a superstar: closer Heath Bell.
Before Sunday -- 12 games into the season -- Bell was seven for seven in save opportunities. Manager Bud Black chose to rest Bell Sunday since he had worked the previous three games. The result was reputation-enhancing for Bell. With a one-run lead in the ninth inning, rookie reliever Edwin Moreno was sent to the mound instead of Bell. Ryan Howard singled and Raul Ibanez went yard for a 4-3 Phillies comeback win.
Bell’s seven saves currently leads both leagues (four pitchers are tied for second with four). He has tossed 6.2 innings, struck out eight while walking just two and has yet to let a single run cross home plate.
The 31-year-old hurler walks the walk ... and talks the talk. Never shy, Bell revealed during spring training that he lost 25 pounds because he didn't like how fat his Wii Fitness icon looked. He openly talked about getting the first save in the opening game at the New York Mets new ballpark (The Mets had traded Bell away). And he accused ESPN of promoting the Mets, Yankees and Red Sox while ignoring the Padres.
A big mouth can get a player in trouble. But seven-for-seven in 13 games is an incredible start. Lucky? We'll see. At his current pace, Bell would end the season with 86 saves -- ridiculous, of course, especially in the context of a pre-season Padres team happy to dream about a season of 86 wins. For now, at least, Bell is ringing teams up.
Ron Donoho, formerly executive editor of "San Diego Magazine," is a regular contributor to NBCSandiego.com who covers local news, sports, culture and happy hours.