07/04/2004 7:00 PM ET
Nathan earns All-Star invitation
Closer may be only Twin in Houston
By Mark Sheldon / MLB.com
|In his first season as a closer, Joe Nathan was named to the AL All-Star team. (Jim Mone/AP)
PHOENIX -- In one half of a season, Joe Nathan has gone from first-time closer to first-time All-Star.
On Sunday, the right-hander was named as the Twins representative to the American League roster for the 75th All-Star game July 13 at Houston's Minute Maid Park.
Nathan learned that he made the team from manager Ron Gardenhire while shagging fly balls before the Twins played the Diamondbacks at Bank One Ballpark.
"It's a good feeling," Nathan said. "It's going to be a lot of fun going over there and being around that atmosphere. To be on a team with players of that caliber, I think it's going to be an experience."
The invitation is certainly a deserved honor for the 29-year-old. He has converted 23 of his 24 save opportunities this season while posting a stingy 1.19 ERA in 36 appearances.
After allowing three runs in a non-save situation April 14 at Cleveland, Nathan did not allow another run to cross until June 4 -- a string of 20 straight appearances.
"That was an easy pick for me when you look at his numbers," said Yankees manager Joe Torre, who is also the American League skipper. "We haven't seen Minnesota, so the tough part is trying to pay attention to players you haven't seen. When you look at Nathan's numbers, they're pretty impressive."
On Nov. 14, 2003, the Twins acquired Nathan and two minor leaguers for former All-Star catcher A.J. Pierzynski. When former closer Eddie Guardado and former set-up man LaTroy Hawkins departed as free agents later in the winter, Minnesota named Nathan as its main man in the ninth.
"(The All-Star game) was the last thought on my mind," said Nathan about his goals after becoming a closer. "It's basically a dream come true, especially the first time."
Unless outfielder Lew Ford can win the 2004 Final Vote and be the 32nd player on the team, Nathan will be living his All-Star dream without any teammates.
Several inside the Twins clubhouse couldn't hide their disappointment that more of their own weren't invited. Minnesota and the White Sox have been at or near first place in the AL Central all season but have one player each representing. Meanwhile, the third-place Indians have four players going to Houston.
"That's brutal," first baseman Doug Mientkiewicz said.
"Small market. Same old story. We're used to it," said center fielder Torii Hunter, a 2002 All-Star starter who also received the most votes on the club this year. "We still don't get any respect."
Starting pitchers Brad Radke (4-4, 3.70) and Johan Santana (AL leader in strikeout with 112) and set-up man Juan Rincon (8-3, 1.94 ERA) were all having good seasons but were left off the roster.
"It's all about the numbers," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "It obviously doesn't matter -- (two) division championships get thrown out."
It's the second year in a row that Minnesota will have just one player representing the club on the AL All-Star roster. Nathan's predecessor, Guardado, was the only Twin on the team in 2003.
"We have to be doing something right to be where we are," Nathan said. "I think Brad has done enough to make it. Because of (lack) of wins, it kind of killed him. That's out of his control.
"Besides him, there's (Carlos) Silva, who's the throwing the ball well. Rincon, the way he's thrown the ball, it's almost a surprise he didn't make the team."
At the All-Star game, there's a possibility Nathan will get a chance to face his former San Francisco teammate, Barry Bonds, for the first time.
"I was thinking about that," he said. "Obviously it depends on if I get in there and when I get in there. But there's always that chance."
Nathan was born in Houston, but his family moved away when he was an infant. He spent some time in the city to visit relatives and occasionally went to the old Astrodome and also pitched there with the Giants.
"That's where I got my first save," said Nathan.
It was the only career save he had until joining the Twins this year.
Mark Sheldon is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.