Familiar Twins trio back at All-Star Game
Starting catcher Mauer, Morneau, Nathan repeat as electees
MINNEAPOLIS -- Tigers manager Jim Leyland didn't hesitate to label Twins sluggers Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau as the best 1-2 punch in baseball during Detroit's series with the Minnesota this weekend.
And as the national recognition continues to grow for the the pair of mashers, it's a label that could start to catch on beyond just the American League Central.For the second straight year the Twins' M&M Boys -- along with closer Joe Nathan -- will represent Minnesota on one of baseball's biggest stages, the All-Star Game. The trio was named to the AL squad Sunday when rosters for the 80th Midsummer Classic, on July 14 at St. Louis' Busch Stadium, were announced during the MLB All-Star Selection Show presented by Pepsi. Mauer was the leading vote-getter among AL catchers, earning him his second consecutive start behind the plate. Morneau and Nathan were both named as reserves after being selected through the players' ballot. "I don't think anybody in here is too surprised," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "I think that's what we all thought would happen. You have Mauer and Morneau, the two big lefties in the middle of the lineup there. And Nathan shuts it down at the end as good as anybody in the league. I would have been very disappointed if one of those guys hadn't made the All-Star team." The 80th Major League Baseball All-Star Game will be televised nationally by FOX Sports, 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. 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. Despite missing all of April while on the disabled list with lower back inflammation, Mauer was the AL's second-leading vote getter with 4,335,739 votes, behind only shortstop Derek Jeter of the Yankees, who received 4,851,889 votes. "The fans got that one right for sure," Morneau said of Mauer. "He definitely deserves to start. He's the best catcher in the game." "It's always an honor to go and to be voted in by the fans," Mauer added. "I can thank the fans for that, everybody in Minnesota and across the country. It's a great honor." The Twins catcher, who was also selected first on the players' ballot as well, is batting .389 with a career-high 14 home runs and 45 RBIs in 58 games through Sunday since coming off the DL on May 1. Mauer would lead the Majors in batting average, but due to the time he missed, the catcher will still be five plate appearances shy of qualifying for the league leaders when he takes the field on Tuesday to face the Yankees. As Mauer continues to chase the .400 mark heading into the All-Star break, he knows that his batting average will be a big topic of discussion with all the national media in St. Louis. But in his third trip to the Midsummer Classic in five full Major League seasons, Mauer said he won't let it be a big distraction. "I know what I'm heading into," Mauer said. "It's just a crazy couple days, but it's a lot of fun. You kind of just take it for what it is." It's also the third trip for the other half of the Twins' M&M boys, as Morneau earned his third consecutive selection to the All-Star Game. Morneau was voted in by his peers after putting up MVP-caliber numbers at season's outset. His 69 RBIs rank second in the AL behind only Red Sox outfielder Jason Bay's 70. The Twins first baseman also ranks near the top of other offensive categories with his .323 batting average and 21 home runs. "We know what they mean to this game, but more importantly to our club," Nathan said of Mauer and Morneau. "They talk about M&M Boys and dynamic duos. These guys, they're going to be two of the best players. They could go down in history as two of the best back-to-back for a long time. If they keep putting up numbers like they're doing, you're going to have to look pretty far back to find a comparison." Nathan has certainly put himself among the game's elite, as he'll be making the fourth All-Star appearance of his career. The Twins' closer has been putting together perhaps one of his best seasons in 2009, recording 22 saves while posting a 1.35 ERA in 35 appearances for the Twins. His 22 saves currently rank second in the AL behind fellow All-Star closer Brian Fuentes of the Angels, who has 23. "He's throwing the ball really, really well right now," Gardenhire said of Nathan. "The ball is coming out of his hand with a good angle. He's just got the variety of pitches -- from the curveball to the slider. He even throws a changeup every once in awhile and the two-seamer. He's got them all, plus the hard fastball. He's throwing well." Mauer, Morneau and Nathan were the same three players that represented the club at last year's Midsummer Classic at Yankee Stadium. For a club that has grown accustomed to having to say goodbye to some of its stars, it's quite special to have the same three players named to an All-Star team together for a second consecutive year. "It's pretty cool to be able to go with those two guys," Morneau said. "Those are the kinds of guys that you want to go to All-Star games with and you want to say those are my teammates."
Kelly Thesier is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.