07/06/08 7:23 PM ET
Three pitchers get All-Star nod for Halos
Saunders, Santana, K-Rod selected; Vlad, Lackey snubbed
By Lyle Spencer / MLB.com
It's the first time in franchise history that the Angels have had three pitchers in the All-Star Game. No Angels position players were selected when the rosters were announced on Sunday, ending Vladimir Guerrero's streak of four consecutive starts in the AL outfield as a member of the Angels.
For Rodriguez, Major League Baseball's saves leader with 34, this marks his third appearance in the Midsummer Classic. He also was selected in 2004 and 2007, nailing down the save last year.
Saunders and Santana, who came to Spring Training believing they would be competing for the fifth spot in the Angels' rotation, are making their first All-Star Game appearances. They emerged as consistent staff leaders with John Lackey and Kelvim Escobar sidelined early in the season because of injuries. Lackey has returned with a flourish, but Escobar remains sidelined by a shoulder injury.
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 5 p.m. PT. 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.
Rodriguez, Saunders and Santana all made the team on the Player Ballot. K-Rod led all relievers in votes, with Saunders and Santana second and fourth among starters.
Rodriguez, on pace to eclipse the single-season saves record of 57 held by Bobby Thigpen of the 1990 White Sox, retired Aaron Rowand for the final out in the AL's dramatic 5-4 win last year in San Francisco. The victory gave Francona and the AL champion Red Sox home-field advantage for the World Series.
Since assuming full-time closer duties for the Angels in 2005, K-Rod leads the Majors in saves with 166. He has a 1.93 ERA in 40 appearances and had blown only two of 36 save opportunities.
Yankee Stadium has been a special place for Rodriguez since he appeared there in the 2002 AL Division Series, claiming his first win as a Major League pitcher -- in postseason play.
"It was an unbelievable feeling," he said. "I have so many memories of pitching there the first year I came up. And now, being able to go back there for the All-Star Game in the last year of Yankee Stadium ... it's going to be a lot of fun."
Asked if it ever gets old, Rodriguez replied, "No, no. Hopefully, they'll keep it coming. I'm really happy and excited, and I look forward to having another experience there."
This "absolutely" is the best of K-Rod's three All-Star seasons, but he quickly injected a qualifier.
"It's been a great run so far, but I always say it's not how you start but how you finish," Rodriguez said. "Hopefully, I can continue doing what I'm doing right now and finish really strong. I'm really a competitive guy, and I like to be out there helping my ballclub win ballgames. That's all. That's what they pay me for. It has nothing to do with contracts or arbitration or anything else."
K-Rod began the season with an arbitration hearing that resulted in a $10 million settlement when the ruling favored the club. He modified his delivery during Spring Training under the watchful eye of pitching coach Mike Butcher, hoping to reduce the violence of his follow-through and save wear and tear on his lower body.
Saunders, in his first full season in the rotation after two seasons as a spot starter, leads the AL in wins with 12. He was 5-0 in April with a 2.04 ERA in six starts and has maintained his consistent excellence throughout the first half, yielding two or fewer runs in 12 of his 17 starts with a 3.04 ERA.
"We have some fabulous arms on this team," Saunders said. "To get the opportunity to do this is pretty special. Everything's fallen in place this year."
Saunders said he feels blessed on and off the field. His wife, Shanel, is due to deliver their first child on Monday.
"It's tough to describe," he said. "I couldn't be happier."
Angels manager Mike Scioscia has seen Saunders take the ball and run with it this season.
"I think Joe's become really comfortable with what he needs to do to get hitters out," Scioscia said. "He's not afraid of contact and he's got a good arm, which is the start of everything.
"I think in the winter there was some competition that was kind of building when we traded for Jon Garland to get some depth in our rotation. But once we got into the spring, it was clear the guys we felt we were going to line up -- and Joe was always one of them. He had a terrific spring and went about his business the right way and worked hard. It's great to see his hard work appreciated and rewarded."
Santana, who is 9-3 with a 3.28 ERA, is fifth in the league in strikeouts, with 106 in 115 1/3 innings. His .224 opponents batting average against is fourth best in the AL.
"It's a great honor," Santana said. "I put in a lot of work during the winter and this spring, and it's a good feeling to be helping the team and now making the All-Star team. I've always believed in my ability. It's just a matter of being consistent."
Scioscia reflected back to Santana's struggles last season and how he needed some time at Triple-A Salt Lake to regain command of his delivery, which led to a higher confidence level.
"Ervin threw at a very high level for us for two seasons before he struggled last year," Scioscia said. "So we knew he had it in him. He went down last year to get his mechanics back to where they were. It sounds like a simple chore, but it's not.
"Since he's got back into his mechanics, his velocity is back where it should be and his fastball-breaking ball combination is as good as anybody in the game today."
Guerrero, an All-Star eight times in his career with four NL selections as an Expo, was not chosen as a reserve after finishing fifth in the fan balloting. Three outfielders -- J.D. Drew, Carlos Quentin and Grady Sizemore -- were chosen on the Player Ballot in support of starters Manny Ramirez, Josh Hamilton and Ichiro Suzuki. Drew jumped ahead of Guerrero in the final week of the balloting.
Guerrero was not among the five players chosen for the Final Vote.
Lackey, who made the 2007 AL squad alongside Rodriguez and Guerrero, couldn't overcome the six weeks he lost with a triceps strain. The right-hander is 6-2 with a 1.93 ERA.
The World Series champion Red Sox led the AL with seven choices, followed by the Rangers, with four.
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.