Come Tuesday and the All-Star Game, Don Aase's memories will come rushing back: his selection to the 1986 American League team, that ninth-inning call to the bullpen and the plaudits the Orioles pitcher received for saving a 3-2 victory.
"That game was a highlight for me," said Aase, 62. "It was something I really appreciated, especially years afterward."
His performance that night at the Astrodome in Houston was the apex of Aase's best year in baseball. A mustachioed reliever for four seasons in Baltimore (1985 through 1988), he went 6-7 with a 2.98 ERA and 34 saves, then a club record, in 1986. His effort softened the blow of the Orioles' last-place finish in the AL East and earned Aase the team's Most Valuable Player award — a mantel clock which he keeps on a shelf in the living room of his home in Yorba Linda, Calif.
He entered the All-Star Game as the majors' top reliever (23 saves, 2.42 ERA) and proved it with just two pitches. Summoned in the ninth, with runners on first and third and one out, Aase took the ball from manager Dick Howser (Kansas City Royals), who told him, "We're up by a run, go get 'em."
At the plate was Chris Brown, of the San Francisco Giants, who'd doubled in his previous trip. Aase fed him a 92 mph fastball, outside.
"I threw it as hard as I could, but the ball had nothing on it," he said. "I was 90 percent fastballs, so I knew he was expecting another. Now, I wanted to throw a slider, and I was hoping the catcher (Rich Gedman of the Boston Red Sox) would call it."
A slider it was. Brown hit a bouncer to second baseman Frank White (Royals), who stepped on the bag and threw to first for a double play. Game over. The winners went nuts, having triumphed for the second time in 15 years. Aase, who'd undergone elbow surgery several years earlier, was now, at age 31, a big shot.
"I don't remember the reporters' questions," he said. "I was on cloud nine. You dream about those kinds of things happening."
It took time to scrape him off the clubhouse ceiling.
"It was a tough start," Aase said. "When Earl came, he pulled me into his office, looked at my stats, threw them away and said, 'You're my No. 1 [reliever].' He went with his gut, and him showing confidence in me really changed things around."
Injuries cut short Aase's career. In August 1986, he hurt his back while lifting his 4-year-old son. Soon after, he lost both games of a doubleheader against the Oakland Athletics. Shoulder surgery sidelined him most of the following season, and after a forgettable 1988, the Orioles let him go. Aase retired in 1990.