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07/02/06 8:45 PM ET

Matthews, Young named to All-Star team

Rangers center fielder selected to first Midsummer Classic

ARLINGTON -- Rangers center fielder Gary Matthews Jr. had the fans on their feet at Ameriquest Field in Arlington on Saturday afternoon when he leaped against the fence and took a home run away from Astros first baseman Mike Lamb.

"That was unbelievable," Rangers manager Buck Showalter said, and Matthews agreed it was the best catch he has ever made.

That sums up his whole first half, as Matthews has played better than he ever has in his career.

His reward was being named to the American League All-Star team on Sunday. Matthews made the team as a replacement for Toronto's Alex Rios because he was the next highest vote-getter among outfielders.

He will be joined at the 77th annual All-Star Game, to be played on July 11 at PNC Park in Pittsburgh, by Rangers shortstop Michael Young, who was selected by the players as a reserve for the third straight year.

"It's an honor to go to the All-Star Game, and I'm just so happy for Gary," Young said. "Gary is obviously deserving -- he has had an incredible year. He's carried us the first half. All the guys around the league know he is deserving."

This is the fourth straight year the Rangers have had two players selected to the All-Star Game. But, unless there is an injury, this will be the first time they haven't had a player in the American League starting lineup since 1991.

But Young was happy to be voted by the players as a reserve.

"That's the ultimate compliment," Young said. "When guys you play with think you belong in the game, that means a lot. There are so many talented shortstops in the league -- it's humbling that the players selected me to go."

Matthews joins his father, Gary "Sarge" Matthews, who was selected to play in the 1979 All-Star Game while playing for the Atlanta Braves.

"I feel so happy to have accomplished something my father did in the game," Matthews said. "People have compared us for so long even though I really never tried to live up to what he did. We're two different players. But just to be able to sit around the dinner table and say this is something I finally matched him with is great."

Making the All-Star Team also is quite an accomplishment for a player who was in Spring Training with the Braves in 2004 but was released at the end of March. He was sitting on his couch on Opening Day and had to sign a Minor League contract with the Rangers just to get a job.

Matthews was called up on May 25 after the Rangers were hit by a rash of injuries in the outfield. Matthews was a fourth outfielder for 2004, but then he became Texas' starting center fielder midway through the 2005 season.

That job seemed in jeopardy this year when he missed all of Spring Training with a strained ribcage muscle and opened the season on the disabled list.

Matthews was activated on April 12 and filled an immediate need. The Rangers were looking for a reliable center fielder, and Matthews proved to be the perfect answer.

"I really believe things happen for a reason," Matthews said. "I remember getting released the last week of Spring Training with the Atlanta Braves and was disappointed. I had a tough Spring Training and felt I was capable of doing better.

"Coming to Texas was a breath of fresh air. I got a chance to work with [hitting coach] Rudy Jaramillo. Coming to this organization really changed my career."

He went into Sunday's game against the Astros hitting .326 with 42 runs scored, eight home runs and 41 RBIs. His .375 on-base percentage is the fourth-highest by an American League leadoff hitter with at least 290 at-bats. Overall, he is seventh in the league in hitting, fourth in doubles, ninth in triples and hits and tied for eighth in extra-base hits.

"What stands out is the total package," Showalter said. "You don't sit around hoping he doesn't have to throw the ball, or they don't hit to him because of his range or you don't hope that he has to go from first to third. That's what stands out, because it's so rare, the total package. We have a guy who can lead off and play center field -- that's two pretty big things to solve for us."

Young continues to command the respect of the players. Derek Jeter won the fans' voting at shortstop, but Young was selected by the players over Baltimore shortstop Miguel Tejada.

"There is so much respect for Mike and the way he goes about his business," Showalter said. "His substance is his style, and from that standpoint, he's one of the most stylish players around."

Young, the defending American League batting champion, went into Sunday's game hitting .319, 19th in the league. He was second in the league in hits and tied for second in doubles. He also was hitting .402 with runners in scoring position, the third-best average in the AL.

The Rangers have had five different infielders receive a total of 11 All-Star spots over the past six years. Young is 1-for-3 in two All-Star Games, hitting a double last year in Detroit.

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