07/04/2004 7:00 PM ET
Rangers send five to Houston
Three-fourths of infield, Rogers, Cordero chosen
By Robert Falkoff / MLB.com
|Alfonso Soriano was the top overall vote getter in fan balloting this year. (Tony Gutierrez/AP)
The Rangers' turnaround season was saluted Sunday with five Texas players learning they are headed to Houston for the July 13 All-Star Game.
The heavy representation includes second baseman Alfonso Soriano, shortstop Michael Young, third baseman Hank Blalock, left-handed starter Kenny Rogers and right-handed closer Francisco Cordero.
The five All-Stars are the most the Rangers have ever had in the game. They have had four in three other games -- 1989, 1998 and 1999 -- and getting five this season sounded good to manager Buck Showalter.
"If someone asked me which of our players should be on the All-Star team, I'd say the whole team," Showalter said. "That's kind of what this year has been about for us, the sum of the parts."
Soriano will be in the American League starting lineup after the fans made him the leading overall vote getter with 3,466,447 votes. Soriano will be making his third All-Star appearance after twice representing the Yankees in the midsummer classic.
Soriano, who came to the Rangers in the blockbuster Alex Rodriguez deal last February, started play on Sunday with a .292 batting average and 13 home runs.
The second baseman had said during the voting process that his two World Series appearances with a marquee club was probably a big factor in why he was so popular during the balloting. But the fans weren't just voting on name recognition. Soriano, a leadoff hitter in New York, has adjusted to the No. 3 spot in the Texas order while providing consistent production.
"It was great to get the news," Soriano said. "I feel very good. I'm having a lot of fun now and it will be nice to see all my friends."
Asked whether the fact that the Rangers will have three infielders in Houston next week means that the Rangers have the best infield in the game, Soriano said, "We have a lot of good fielders. We're young and we're working very hard. But a lot of teams have good infields."
While Soriano's place on the team was a given due to his popularity in the balloting, the other four Rangers were in a wait-and-see mode until getting the news Sunday.
Young, who leads the league in hits and started play Sunday with a .330 average, volunteered to move from second base to shortstop in Spring Training to accommodate the arrival of Soriano. With that display of sacrifice for the greater good of the team, the Rangers surely think it's poetic justice that Young winds up as an All-Star shortstop in his first year playing that position since he was a minor leaguer.
Young trailed both Derek Jeter of the Yankees and Nomar Garciaparra of Boston through the voting process, but got the call as a reserve. Young had said in the days leading to Sunday's announcement that the challenge to make the All-Star team became greater when he moved to shortstop. Young met that challenge head-on and now will be able to reflect on his special accomplishment during three fun-filled days in Houston.
"I'm very honored and proud to be a part of the All-Star game," Young said. "Winning the players vote is an incredible honor and I'm very humbled by it.
"Winning the players vote is by far the most important thing to me," he added. "To know my peers thought enough of me to include me in this game is just wonderful."
Blalock is back for an encore All-Star performance after becoming the hero of the 2003 game in Chicago. It was Blalock's two-run homer off Eric Gagne in the eighth inning that lifted the AL to a 7-6 victory. Last year, the left-handed-hitting Blalock played only selectively against lefties. Playing every day against all pitching this year, Blalock is among the league leaders with 21 homers and started play Sunday with a .313 batting average.
"This is really special," Blalock said, talking about the number of Rangers selected this year. "We were just talking about it. We have such a great group of guys and getting five on the team is really great.
"I'm so excited for Mike [Young]," Blalock continued. "I know how hard he's worked for this and he's had such a great year. We do everything together. We lift together and go into the cage together. It's great to see him go."
Rogers and Cordero have been accomplished bookends for what has been a much-improved Texas pitching staff.
Rogers, making his second All-Star appearance and first since 1995, was the first Major League pitcher this year to reach 11 wins. At age 39, the crafty left-hander has won seven straight decisions as the acknowledged ace of the staff.
"I'm excited," Rogers said. "I'm glad. Being picked by the players and coaches, that in itself is a great privilege. I'm really happy the [five] guys made it. I think they all had a good case to go."
With his 11 wins so far in 2004, Rogers has a chance to be the American League starter.
"I don't care [if I start or not]," said Rogers. "Whatever happens will be all right. If I could pick a guy it would be [Oakland's Mark] Mulder. He's way ahead of me in most categories."
"They had to pick me so they could get the average age of the group up," Rogers added.
Cordero, in his first full year as the Rangers' closer, converted 19 consecutive save opportunities before suffering his first blown save in mid-June. He was 24 of 26 in save chance prior to Sunday, and the 24 saves were the second-most in the AL behind New York's Mariano Rivera.
"This is really nice," the right-hander said. "It means a lot to me and my family. I just feel great right now."
Robert Falkoff is a reporter for MLB.com. Contributing writer Jim Carley contributed to this report. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.