Seven Julys ago, the Twins printed up “Pitch In for Pat” T-shirts to support Park Center High School product Pat Neshek’s ultimately unsuccessful candidacy for an All-Star Game roster spot.
This time, T-shirts won’t be necessary. Unless they say, “Jump In for Justin.”
Derek Jeter, Clayton Kershaw, Mike Trout and Yu Darvish, all of baseball’s biggest stars plus 26 first-time All-Stars, will be in uniform at Target Field next Tuesday, managers John Farrell of the Red Sox and Mike Matheny of the Cardinals announced Sunday. But especially notable for Minnesota fans, besides the selection of Twins catcher Kurt Suzuki and closer Glen Perkins, was the inclusion of Neshek, who is having a spectacularly successful season in the Cardinals bullpen.
“His response was priceless. He was astonished, I think,” Matheny told mlb.com of his team’s pregame ceremony to announce St. Louis’ All-Stars. “You look at everybody’s individual trail that they’re on to get here, and some of the adversity that guys go through make something like this even sweeter. Once again, though, [it’s] completely deserved. I don’t think anybody is going to argue that.”
No, it’s hard to argue with an 0.77 ERA, a 35-to-4 strikeout-to-walk ratio, with allowing one run in his past 35 appearances. But Neshek, who pitched for the Twins for four seasons until being claimed on waivers by San Diego in 2010, isn’t a closer, and it’s not easy for a setup man to make the team. Neshek discovered that with the Twins in 2007, when he had first-half numbers almost as gaudy but was relegated to the Final Vote ballot, where he lost out to Boston’s Hideki Okajima for the final spot.
“[Matheny] said, ‘And going back to his hometown ...’ and that’s when everything, for me, I tuned out everything. I shook my head and thought, ‘This is a reality,’ ” Neshek told reporters in St. Louis. “I thought there was a chance, [but] baseball doesn’t really make a spot for setup guys.”
Neshek and former teammate Carlos Gomez, Milwaukee’s fiery center fielder and one of a record four Brewers selected, will both be returning to the city where they started their major league careers, but only Gomez — among the record eight ex-Twins who made All-Star squads a year ago — has made it for a second consecutive season. And if Justin Morneau, the Rockies first baseman and former AL MVP who was traded by Minnesota last August and is enjoying a robust comeback season, is going to return to Target Field as an NL All-Star, it will require a fan-balloting victory that Neshek couldn’t manage.
“I don’t think there’s any question he’s an All-Star. He’s been one of our most consistent hitters all year,” Colorado manager Walt Weiss told the Denver Post about Morneau, who is batting .316 with 16 homers and 59 RBI, second-most in the NL. “It would be a great story — him going back to Minnesota. No only is it a good story, it should happen. He’s deserving of it, and I hope it happens.”
The fans voted Arizona’s Paul Goldschmidt as the starter at first base, and Matheny chose Atlanta’s Freddie Freeman as his backup. Morneau faces Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo, Nationals third baseman Antony Rendon, Atlanta outfielder Justin Upton and Miami third baseman Casey McGehee for the 34th NL spot.
The game is expected to be baseball’s farewell salute to Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter, who was elected to his 14th All-Star Game in the fans’ vote. “I’m happy I get the opportunity to come back here,” Jeter said at Target Field, where the Yankees outlasted the Twins 9-7. “After last year [when he was injured], just playing means a little bit more. It’s never a situation where I expect to go to the All-Star Game. I’ve never taken it for granted at all in my career, any time that I’ve gone. And I’ve enjoyed each and every one of them, so I’m looking forward to it.”
When he takes the field with seven other position players for the first inning next Tuesday, they will come from seven other teams, the first time that’s happened. The fans elected Detroit’s Miguel Cabrera to play first base, Robinson Cano of Seattle at second, and Oakland’s Josh Donaldson at third, with an outfield of Adam Jones of Baltimore, Mike Trout of Los Angeles and Jose Bautista of Toronto, the overall leading vote-getter with 5.86 million votes.
Matt Wieters of Baltimore, out for the remainder of the season after undergoing elbow surgery, was elected as the starting catcher but was replaced by Royals catcher Salvador Perez. One other Oriole will be in the lineup, however: Nelson Cruz, back this season after serving a 50-game suspension for his involvement in the Biogenesis scandal, was elected to start at designated hitter.
In the National League, fans chose Gomez and a couple more electrifying outfielders, Yasiel Puig of the Dodgers and Andrew McCutchen of the Pirates. The infield consists of Goldschmidt at first, Chase Utley of the Phillies at second, Troy Tulowitzki of Colorado at shortstop and Milwaukee’s Aramis Ramirez at third. Yadier Molina of St. Louis was elected to start behind the plate for the fourth time in his career.