Twins trio getting used to Classic trips
Mauer, Morneau and Nathan enjoy repeat performance
ST. LOUIS -- It's becoming an annual habit for Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau and Joe Nathan to represent the Twins at the All-Star Game.
The trio is in St. Louis for its second straight All-Star appearance together, and for Nathan, the eldest of the three, he seemed genuinely thrilled just to have some company.
"I know my first [All-Star Game] I was alone," Nathan said Monday. "It's always nice when you have a couple of buddies to come with you. We get eight months together, and we have a pretty good time."
Then he grinned.
"I've got a couple of young pups with me."
Relatively speaking, yes. Mauer, 26, and Morneau, 28, are both much younger than the 34-year-old closer. Not only that, but Nathan, now a four-time All-Star, certainly doesn't garner the same amount of attention that the M&M boys do. There was plenty of proof of that Monday, just based on the distribution of media attention around the three at the St. Louis Hyatt, where all the All-Stars were first introduced to the media.
Mauer was inundated with questions about the possibility of catching knuckleball pitcher Tim Wakefield, to which Mauer said he hopes his practice catching teammate R.A. Dickey can help. And with three consecutive All-Star appearances to his credit, Morneau was asked to consider his place among the league's first basemen.
All to which Nathan replied: "They can take all the attention they want. They are great for the game of baseball and great for [Minnesota]."
The Twins have not lived up to expectations as a team so far this season, but there is no doubt that this trio -- regardless of how much or how little fanfare each has received -- has been delivering All-Star-caliber seasons once again.Mauer has been one of the biggest stories in baseball so far this year. Not only for his hot start after missing the first month of the season due to lower back inflammation, but also for the fact that he's been chasing the .400 mark for the majority of the first half. Since returning from the disabled list May 1, Mauer is batting .373 and now leads the American League in batting average after recently getting enough plate appearances to officially qualify. But Mauer's production has slowed down a bit of late, as his average has dropped from .429 on June 16 to .373 heading into the break. "It's nice to be on his side, even though it's for one day," said Joe Maddon, Rays manager and the AL manager for the All-Star Game. Last year, Mauer went 1-for-1 with a walk in the Midsummer Classic. He went 0-for-2 in his first appearance, back in '06. While Mauer is leading the league in average this season, it might be Morneau who has been the Twins' Most Valuable Player. The first baseman helped carry the club during Mauer's absence in April and is delivering another solid offensive season, having batted .311 with 21 home runs and 70 RBIs in the first half. Like Mauer, Morneau will be making his third All-Star appearance. He is coming off a memorable All-Star week in 2008, when he captured the Home Run Derby title and scored the winning run for the AL in the 15th inning of last year's contest. In two All-Star appearances, Morneau is 2-for-6 with two runs scored. And with the Twins having Mauer and Morneau batting back-to-back in the middle of their order right now, there is the feeling that perhaps it's the most potent 1-2 punch in the game. "There are very good 1-2 punches around the league, but I'm a little biased toward these guys," Nathan said. "If you get a chance to watch these guys play every day and what they mean to our club, I think they're pretty tough to beat." Nathan, the club's closer, is also putting together another memorable season. He has 23 saves while posting a 1.31 ERA in 36 appearances for the Twins. Nathan has some strong All-Star history on his side as well. In his three previous appearances, Nathan has pitched a perfect inning twice. In '05, he allowed one run on two hits in his inning of work. For Morneau, the opportunity to go with the same two guys to the event once again is special because he knows it doesn't always happen that way. "It's great," Morneau said. "You feel a little out of place when you are walking around by yourself. With them here, you have that comfort level and hopefully it helps you play better.
"I am close with Joe as anyone on the team and Joe Nathan, ever since he came here, he's been one of those guys that's easy to talk to. Those two guys are both definitely All-Stars for sure. It's fun to be able to go with them again."