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Mauer earns first All-Star Game start

Mauer earns first All-Star Game start

MINNEAPOLIS -- Twins catcher Joe Mauer has long been lauded by his peers as perhaps the best catcher in the American League.

Now, the fans have acknowledged that, too.

Mauer was the leading vote-getter among AL catchers for the 2008 All-Star Game, earning him the starting nod behind the plate at this year's contest at Yankee Stadium on July 15. Mauer will be joined on the AL squad by teammates Justin Morneau, who was named to the team via the players' ballot, and Joe Nathan, who was selected by manager Terry Francona.

It's the third straight season that the Twins have had three or more players named to the All-Star team and the first time since 2002 that a Twin has been voted in as a starter.

"You're just very excited for them all," manager Ron Gardenhire said of his three All-Stars. "I didn't know how many we were going to have. You figured maybe Mauer and Morneau, but that it was probably going to be tough with Nathan just because so many closers out there have good numbers. But he's an All-Star too, there is no doubt about it."

This year's All-Stars were announced Sunday afternoon as part of the MLB All-Star Selection Show presented by Chevy. The 79th Major League Baseball All-Star Game will be televised nationally by FOX, in Canada by Rogers Sportsnet and Sportsnet HD and televised around the world by Major League Baseball International, with pregame ceremonies beginning at 7 p.m. CT on July 15. ESPN Radio will provide exclusive national radio coverage, while MLB.com will provide extensive online coverage. XM will provide satellite radio play-by-play coverage of the XM All-Star Futures Game.

This will be Mauer's second trip to the Midsummer Classic and the first time that he's earned a starting nod. Mauer was a players' selection in 2006, the season in which he became the first AL catcher to win a batting title by hitting .347 on the year.

This time, the fans helped the 25-year-old catcher beat out other well known catchers for the top spot, including Jason Varitek of the Red Sox, A.J. Pierzynski of the White Sox, Ivan Rodriguez of the Tigers and Jorge Posada of the Yankees.

"Coming from a smaller market and getting voted in, it's pretty special," Mauer said. "You get to start in the All-Star Game, I don't think it gets much better than that."

After he was slowed down by leg injuries in 2007, Mauer is once again near the top of the league in hitting. Heading into Sunday's game, Mauer's .325 batting average ranked second in the AL behind the Rangers' Ian Kinsler (.328).

Mauer's .415 on-base percentage this season also leads the Twins, and his 37 RBIs rank second on the team.

"He's just a really good hitter," Gardenhire said. "Every year is going to be a little different, but he just always sees the ball so well."

Like Mauer, Morneau has continued to put up numbers this season that were similar to his AL MVP campaign in 2006. Morneau's 65 RBIs currently rank second in the AL. He's hitting .307 on the season with 12 home runs. And it's those numbers that earned Morneau his second straight trip to the All-Star Game after earning the most votes by his fellow players.

"It's pretty special, being the last one in Yankee Stadium," Morneau said. "It was kind of a goal I set at the start of the year, to be playing well enough to be named to that All-Star team. So to get in there with Joe and Joe is exciting."

If there was one particular Joe that everyone in the Twins' clubhouse was excited for, it was Nathan. He was one of six closers selected to go to this year's Midsummer Classic, having picked up his 25th save in Sunday's win while posting a 1.23 ERA over 36 2/3 innings. But despite Nathan's stellar numbers, there were so many closers having good years this season that everyone was unsure if there would be room enough for him.

So there were plenty of smiles when the closer's name was announced.

"He's a guy that deserves to go," Morneau said. "His numbers are as good as anybody, and you know, just because he hasn't had as many save opportunities as other guys, the ones he's gotten he's taken advantage of. ... It doesn't matter if you're up by one, two [or whatever] ... when you see him come into the game, he brings that confidence that the game is over."

This will be Nathan's third trip to the Midsummer Classic. Nathan was an All-Star in his first two seasons as the Twins' closer in 2004 and 2005 and has clearly proven himself among the game's elite. Since taking over as Minnesota's fireman, Nathan ranks second among all Major League closers with 184 saves -- trailing only the Padres' Trevor Hoffman.

Returning to the All-Star Game after a short absence means a lot to Nathan, but the game has particular meaning for another reason. This one has sentimental value since he grew up not far from where the game will be played.

"For me, being raised in New York, my childhood games were there," Nathan said. "I have lots of memories going to the stadium and walking down the tunnel for the first time. So this one will definitely be special."

The mood in the Twins' clubhouse following the announcement of the three players that would be attending this year's All-Star Game was noticeably jubilant, Gardenhire said. Much of that is due to the fact that they believe it's a reflection of the success that they've had overall as a team so far this season.

"Guys pull for each other on this team," Morneau said. "You can't forget about the guys that aren't All-Stars. With the way [Carlos] Gomez and [Alexi] Casilla have played at the top of the order, I don't have those RBIs without Joe [Mauer] and those guys getting on base in front of me. I wouldn't be going to the All-Star Game without them, so you have to thank your teammates, too. There are a lot of guys that contribute to it."

Kelly Thesier is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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