This week Miguel Sano and Ervin Santana will head to Miami for the All-Star Game. For Sano, in his third season in the pros, it will be his first trip to the Midsummer Classic, and for Santana it will be his second trip, although his first in nine seasons.
Santana, in his 13th season in the big leagues, might be having the best season of his career. His 2.99 ERA would be a career best and he currently leads the majors in starts, complete games and shutouts – even if his last start was a tough 2-1 complete game loss to Los Angeles this week.
For Sano this is hopefully just the start of a long run of All-Star Games. He is having a breakout season for the Twins, and is already close to setting career marks in RBI, home runs, doubles and runs scored and there’s nearly half a season left. His batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage and OPS have all bounced back from a relatively down season last year.
Then on Friday came the news that those two will be joined by Twins closer Brandon Kintzler, who took over the American League lead in saves by himself Friday night. His selection gives the Twins three All-Stars for the first time since 2009.
Paul Molitor can relate. The Twins manager was a seven-time All-Star, but it was spread out over 15 seasons. He was first selected as a 23-year-old, like Sano, when he was a Brewers second and third baseman in 1980. It took him five years to reach it again, this time as a shortstop. He would reach it again in 1988, miss it for two years, and then make four consecutive All-Star Games between 1991 and 1994, his 14th through 17th seasons in the majors.
That’s the kind of longevity that makes a Hall of Famer.
Still, even for a Hall of Famer, Molitor said making the All-Star Game doesn’t mean you’re going to get a ton of playing time, so you have to soak in the atmosphere.
Molitor said this past week: “My first at-bat in an All-Star Game was at the Metrodome in 1985 [he didn’t play in 1980]. I was a late replacement and I faced Fernando Venezuela and I struck out.
“But I think I only ended up with seven or eight at-bats in my appearances in the game. I had a chance to start a game in Cincinnati [in 1988]. It’s very special when you’re amongst the game’s elite. I know the first time you walk into an All-Star locker room it’s just something you’ll never forget.”
Molitor had 10 plate appearances in all in All-Star Games, with eight at-bats. He had only one hit, lining a single to right off John Smoltz in 1992, and even then he didn’t get to enjoy running the bases because Travis Fryman was thrown out rounding second base too far for the third out.
But that’s 10 plate appearances in All-Star Games for a Hall of Fame player. Even the all-time greats don’t always get a chance to showcase their talent.
“My personal record wasn’t very good,” Molitor said. “But it’s more about the experience of the game and the festivities that surround it and kind of shouldering up to the best players in the game.”
Not just about results
It’s interesting to look at the Twins history in the All-Star Game and see Molitor’s point played out.
Only seven Twins have had more than a single hit in an All-Star Game. Harmon Killebrew went 3-for-4 with an RBI and a run scored in 1964. Kirby Puckett won All-Star Game MVP in 1993 when he went 2-for-3 with a homer, a double and two RBI.
Justin Morneau went 2-for-4 in 2008 with a double and two runs scored, including the dramatic walk-off winning run in the 15th inning.
On the pitching side it’s amazing to think that Santana will be the first Twins starter to reach the game since Johan Santana did it in 2007, capping a string of three consecutive appearances for one of the greatest Twins of all-time.
Frank Viola is the lone Twins pitcher to pick up an All-Star Game victory, pitching two perfect innings in his Cy Young Award season of 1988.
So for Molitor, the game isn’t just about the results, but about being able to be a part of baseball history.
“You know, when you dream about getting to the major leagues — I think back to watching Harmon Killebrew hit a home run in an All-Star Game that I watched as a kid — and you now you dream about having that opportunity one day, and I was fortunate to get to seven of them,” he said.
There’s been one significant change to the game this year: It no longer determines which league has home-field advantage in the World Series. Molitor said it was the right thing to do, adding, “That became a little bit gimmicky, I think, for the players.
“I think they know the way they’ve turned it into such an almost a weeklong festivity with the Futures Game and the celebrity softball game and the Home Run Derby and the big parade, it has become quite a spectacle. I think the players look forward to being a part of it.”
Yes Molitor, of all people, can appreciate what a big moment this will be for Sano, Santana, Kintzler and for the Twins ballclub.
• Gophers football coach P.J. Fleck was asked if he has made any decisions on the two scholarships he still has open for the Class of 2017: “I love that question. I still haven’t decided what I want to do with those yet. I can still push those to 2018. We already have seven commitments for 2018, which I think is the second-most in the country. For 2017 we still have two left, but we’re still waiting on a few kids to make it academically and be allowed into the University of Minnesota. If we have that happen we’ll fill one or two of them this year. If not we’ll push them back to the following year.”
• WCHA Commissioner Bill Robertson said the league and Arizona State have decided to halt discussions regarding adding Sun Devils men’s hockey to the conference. Arizona State will play as an independent for at least the next few years while an arena is built. Negotiations might begin again at a later date.
• Former Timberwolves guard Ricky Rubio might have had his struggles shooting, but he never had any issues against the Jazz. In his career he has shot 43.8 percent from the floor, 41.0 percent from three-point range and 82.7 percent at the free-throw line while averaging 12.3 points, 8.2 assists and 4.2 rebounds in 17 games against Utah, which is one reason the Jazz might have gone after him.
• The headline in the Oklahoman ran “Taj Gibson will be missed,” as columnist Berry Tramel wrote about the newest Wolves acquisition. “It’s a good fit [for Minnesota]. A no-nonsense player back with his no-nonsense Chicago coach, Tom Thibodeau.”
• Meanwhile, in the Indianapolis Star the headline said: “Pacers will face a challenge in replacing Teague at point guard,” in an article about Jeff Teague, now with the Wolves. The article mentioned how Teague had come to Indianapolis, his hometown, looking for a lot of long-term success, but everything changed when the Pacers dealt Paul George and started to rebuild.
Sid Hartman can be heard on WCCO AM-830 at 8:40 a.m. Monday and Friday, 2 p.m. Friday and 10:30 a.m. Sunday. firstname.lastname@example.org