|Sunday, June 30
Hunter, Guardado and Pierzynski make AL team
MINNEAPOLIS -- When Minnesota Twins general manager Terry Ryan walked into the team's clubhouse before their game Sunday, many of the players thought he was bearing bad news.
But instead, Ryan's announcement brought waves of applause. Center fielder Torii Hunter, reliever Eddie Guardado and catcher A.J. Pierzynski had been named to the American League All-Star team for the July 9 game in Milwaukee. It was the first selection for each player.
"That was the first time I'd ever addressed the team in midseason,'' Ryan said. "Automatically, I'm sure they would think it was something bad.''
For a team that didn't even know if it would be playing baseball this year, the announcement added to the excitement of a successful first half of the season. The team targeted for contraction last fall is now 46-36, six games in front of the second-place Chicago White Sox in the American League Central.
"I couldn't be any more excited just about the way we're playing,'' Guardado said. "Everyone in this clubhouse is an All-Star in my mind.''
The Twins placed three players on the team for the second year in a row, when pitchers Joe Mays and Eric Milton and shortstop Cristian Guzman were selected in 2001. Pitcher Rick Reed made the National League All-Star team last year with the New York Mets.
Each of the players chosen in 2002 has overcome numerous obstacles to earn the trip to Milwaukee.
Hunter and Pierzynski were both sent to the minors in 2000, largely because of a lack of plate discipline. Then-manager Tom Kelly had a short leash with players who chased pitches out of the strike zone.
But both returned to the majors in 2001 and stayed there all season. Now Pierzynski leads all American League catchers with a .323 average, while Hunter is hitting .305 with 18 home runs and 56 RBI.
"Torii and I have been through a lot of ups and downs,'' Pierzynski said. "We sure took our beatings. But we've grown up and learned from it.''
Guardado toiled in relative anonymity as a starter and setup man for the Twins since 1993, then was moved to the closer role this year. On Sunday, he recorded his 24th save in 26 opportunities. Guardado is 1-1 with a 2.56 ERA in 37 appearances.
"I've never thought about being an All-Star,'' Guardado said. "Everything has gone my way this year.''
Fans voted Hunter into the starting lineup, making him the first Twin since Kirby Puckett in 1995 to earn that honor.
"I hope I don't pass out out there, you know, in front of all those people when they call my name out to be one of those All-Stars,'' Hunter said. "It's a big honor. It's a blessing.''
Pierzynski became the first Twins catcher to make the All-Star team since Tim Laudner in 1988, while Guardado became the first Twins reliever to be selected since Rick Aguilera in 1993.
Ryan informed the team because Twins manager Ron Gardenhire missed his fifth consecutive game following the death of his father.
"I know what we've gone through over the years,'' Ryan said. "To be able to walk in and tell the team that we have three All-Stars playing on a successful ballclub is very gratifying.''
Twins reliever J.C. Romero was left off the team despite a 3-1 record and 1.75 ERA in 45 games.
"I think he deserved to make it,'' said Guardado. "I went over and told him that he should have been one, if that meant anything to him.''