07/06/2003 8:00 PM ET
A's send fabulous foursome
Four Oakland players are selected to All-Star game
OAKLAND -- As a team, the 2003 A's may not be playing to their own lofty expectations but they have the respect of their fellow players.
By Kent Schacht / MLB.com
Four Oakland players were named to the American League All-Star team on Sunday, and each made the team after getting the nod from their fellow players in the selection process -- the first time the players have had a voice in selecting the squads for the Midsummer Classic.
A's starters Mark Mulder and Barry Zito, closer Keith Foulke and catcher Ramon Hernandez will all be making the trip to Chicago for the 74th All-Star Game. The four Oakland players selected is the most for Oakland since 1991.
"That really strikes a nerve because you're talking about the guys you're going out there and facing every day," Zito said. "When you gain the respect of your peers, it's a good feeling.
"That's pretty trippy. It's cool."
Two of Oakland's All-Star representatives have distinct ties to the Windy City. Foulke, who spent six seasons in the White Sox bullpen and Chicago-area native Mulder should feel very comfortable in familiar surroundings.
Mulder, who came into his own as a baseball player as a youngster in South Holland, Ill. -- about 20 miles south of Chicago's U.S. Cellular Field -- will represent the green and gold on the South Side thanks to his first-ever All-Star selection.
He finished second in AL Cy Young balloting in 2001 and has had a terrific first-half, including a run of five complete games in six starts. He also won seven out of eight starts from April 19 to May 29. He heads into his final start before the All-Star game with an 11-6 record and a 3.10 ERA.
Foulke, acquired for former A's closer Billy Koch in the offseason, has been nearly automatic for the A's in earning his first All-Star selection. The right-handed control pitcher has stymied the opposition, only blowing four save opportunities through the first two months of the season and leading the AL in saves for much of the first half, with 21 after Sunday's game.
Hernandez, a native of Venezuela and also a first-time All-Star, has been praised for years by Oakland's pitchers as one of the best backstops in the business at calling a game. This season, he's done some talking with the bat too, hitting 11 homers as of Monday -- three more than he did all of last season -- with 37 RBIs.
"There are a lot of catchers having a great season," Hernandez said. "I guess I got lucky. Thanks to everyone for giving me a chance to go. ... Hopefully it won't be my last All-Star game."
Two guys even happier for Hernandez's selection than the catcher himself were Zito and A's manager Ken Macha.
"Ramon's been great," Zito said. "I think he's starting to be recognized now as one of the better catchers in the game. Obviously offensively, but even more than that -- defensively. A guy that can handle a staff like ours and a guy that can work with us and know the hitters as well as he does. A lot of the times we'll just trust him. Whatever he puts down we go with it and more than every time he's right."
Said Macha: "I have a little bit of a soft-spot in my heart about Ramon. Sometimes the work he does gets under-appreciated. It's not just the offensive end of it. Somebody who handles a pitching staff like he does is very deserving -- regardless of what he hits. He's been an All-Star for me for the past couple of years."
With Foulke, Zito and Mulder all having the chance to take the hill when he's catching, Hernandez is especially looking forward to the trip.
"Hopefully I'll get to catch them," Hernandez said. "If not, I'll catch the guys I catch. I'll be proud of them -- they all deserve it."
Zito is the only A's All-Star making a return trip to the game. The 2002 AL Cy Young Award winner pitched 1/3 of an inning last season in Milwaukee. Zito, who went 23-5 last season with a 2.75 doesn't have as many wins as he did last year, but has pitched well for the A's, receiving a spate of no-decisions and tough losses.
Going into his final two starts before the All-Star break, the lefty with one of baseball's most devastating curveballs had an 8-5 mark with a 3.12 ERA.
Oakland's fabulous four could be joined by Eric Byrnes, who has been the A's most consistent hitter in 2003. Byrnes is a candidate for the etopps All-Star Final Vote in which five players in each league the were nominated by 2003 All-Star Game managers Dusty Baker and Mike Scioscia in conjunction with Major League Baseball. Fans can vote here at www.oaklandathletics.com or www.MLB.com and can select one player for each league.
The etopps All-Star Final Vote ends on Wednesday, July 9 at 6 PM ET. Winners will be announced on MLB.com shortly thereafter.
Byrnes spent Spring Training earning a spot on the roster and most of April on the bench. Once Jermaine Dye went on the disabled list in late April, Byrnes got his chance and has made the most of it, leading the A's in hitting from the leadoff position. On June 29, he became the fifth Oakland player to hit for the cycle with a 5-for-5 day in San Francisco.
Kent Schacht is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.