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Last-minute LA additions relish All-Star spots

Last-minute LA additions relish All-Star spots

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ANAHEIM -- As Dodgers manager Joe Torre says, it's an imperfect system. And up until Sunday, two days before the 81st All-Star Game, his players were on the short end.

Right fielder Andre Ethier was voted a starting outfielder for the National League, deservedly so after a Triple Crown-leading performance through the first month and a half of the season.

Ethier, who hasn't played center field since college in 2003, will bat seventh in that position. He only learned he'd be manning center when reporters told him on Monday.

"Hopefully Joe doesn't get any crazy ideas," Ethier said. "Now that you tell me that, I guess it's really starting to set in. Maybe I have to ask [Angels center fielder] Torii [Hunter] some pointers about playing center in the All-Star Game. Wow, I guess I'm playing center in the All-Star Game."

Dodgers closer Jonathan Broxton, too, got the nod, and his numbers, like his average of 12.91 strikeouts per nine innings, were just as legitimate.

But there were two other Dodgers deserving of making the short trip to Anaheim who were on the outside looking in: shortstop Rafael Furcal, whose .333 average would be a league-best if he had enough at-bats to qualify, and setup man Hong Chih-Kuo, who hasn't allowed a left-hander a hit all season.

"You just can't put everybody on the team," said Torre, who's managed the American League All-Star team six times. "You just can't satisfy everybody ... I'd always have to apologize to two or three guys."

Then came the weekend. In less than 24 hours, Furcal and Kuo made the team as replacements, the former for Jose Reyes of the Mets, the latter for Jason Heyward of the Braves.

Furcal was on the field Saturday with his wife and two boys for the Dodgers' family day after a loss to the Cubs, when Los Angeles general manager Ned Colletti called him and broke the good news. The next morning, Kuo got the same call, and on Tuesday, he will become the first Taiwan-born player to appear in the All-Star Game.

"It was great, he was excited. He is excited, I should say," Torre said of Kuo's selection Sunday. "And between the time we met yesterday and now, the two guys we talked about [Kuo and Furcal] are on the All-Star team, and the real great news is they're both tickled to think about it."

In the end, the Dodgers had more players named to the All-Star team than all but two NL clubs -- the Cardinals and Braves. And for all four Dodgers, Tuesday won't be a day of going through the motions. Far from it.

Ethier, batting .324 with 14 home runs and 54 RBIs, has never been named to the All-Star team before, and he garnered the second-most votes of any NL outfielder. His .553 slugging percentage is fifth in the league, and his average is second best -- one point behind fellow All-Star Martin Prado.

In anticipation of the game, Ethier made sure he had a couple dozen baseballs sent with him to Anaheim for All-Stars past and present to sign.

"You have the feeling that you're a good player and you belong, but you almost feel out of place," Ethier said. "Last night I came to the hotel and I'm walking in and there's C.C. [Sabathia] and Cliff Lee standing there talking in the hallway. You don't know whether to go up and say hi or keep walking by."

He said hello.

Broxton and Furcal are the Dodgers' All-Star Games veterans, relatively speaking. Broxton was named to the team last season, and Furcal played all the way back in 2003, his fourth season in the big leagues. With the Braves then, Furcal went 1-for-3 with a single and a run scored as a reserve. He also made a throwing error.

But Broxton, 3-0 with a 2.11 ERA and saves in 19 of 21 chances this season, was unable to pitch in last year's Midsummer Classic because of inflammation in his big right toe. That makes Tuesday his first in most ways, too.

"It's been pretty awesome," Broxton said. "To be voted in by my peers that I have to pitch against and their managers, it's pretty awesome."

Broxton's 12 saves in May this year were key to the team's ascension from six games out and in last place on May 8 to a tie for first on May 21, and it set a club record for saves in a calendar month.

And Furcal, well he and Kuo might be the most humbled. Both players have overcome serious surgeries: Furcal to his back, Kuo to his pitching elbow.

Furcal's father passed away toward the end of June, draining his emotions and taking him away from the team, and he missed almost all of May because of a hamstring injury. He responded with a tear that made its way into the Dodgers' history books.

Since June 15, Furcal is batting .414. He matched Gil Hodges' 1953 performance with the Brooklyn Dodgers by scoring a run in 12 straight games. On the season, he's batting .333 with six home runs (including four in the last 11 games), 51 runs scored, 14 steals in 17 attempts and 35 RBIs from the leadoff spot.

But when Colletti called Furcal to tell him about his All-Star selection, Furcal hesitated.

"I didn't want to come, and then I sit down with Ned, he talked to me, and Joe talked to me and I got to come because I got to represent the L.A. Dodgers," said Furcal, who had already made plans with his family. "I know the L.A. Dodgers fans are going to be happy to see me play."

Kuo's left elbow has been operated on an incredible four times, and he doesn't turn 29 until later this month.

The Dodgers never use Kuo on back-to-back days, and he requires five to six hours of treatment -- before every game.

"There have been so many ups and downs in regards to his medical situation and how hard he's worked," Dodgers trainer Stan Conte said. "And I think everyone who's followed the team on an everyday basis knows just how tough it is to go out there and pitch every day in 2010, when in 2007 we didn't think he was going to make it through, when in 2008 we didn't think he was going to make it through, when in 2009 we didn't think he was going to make it through."

Kuo's 0.99 ERA leads all NL relievers. Left-handers are 0-for-31 with 16 strikeouts against him, and opponents are just 5-for-33 against him with runners on base.

"It's been fun. I saw a lot of people I've never met," Kuo said. "It's different [than what I imagined]. I just try to follow Brox, because I don't know what's going on."

Evan Drellich is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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