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Utley, Howard and Gordon earn berths

Utley, Howard and Gordon named NL All-Stars

TORONTO -- It had long been predicted that Ryan Howard and Chase Utley would have careers peppered with All-Star appearances.

That era began on Sunday, when the right side of the Phillies' infield was named to represent the National League in the 77th Annual All-Star Game on July 11 at PNC Park in Pittsburgh. They will be joined by closer Tom Gordon, who makes his third appearance, and his first as a National Leaguer.

They could be joined by a fourth, should outfielder Bobby Abreu win the Monster 2006 All-Star Final Vote. That will be announced on Thursday.

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This is the latest in a series of accolades for the 26-year-old Howard, who broke through last year to capture the National League Rookie of the Year Award. The lefty slugger is starring in the sequel to that spectacular campaign, and has slugged a league-leading 28 homers and 69 RBIs through Sunday.

Two of those homers and seven of those RBIs came in one career night against the Yankees on June 4, in a 9-7 loss. His most recent shot may be one of his most impressive. He smacked a drive off Jays righty A.J. Burnett the opposite way -- something he's done 18 times this season -- and the ball sailed into the second deck at the Rogers Centre, an estimated 385 feet away.

Having not seen it, Howard thought it dipped over the Pizza Pizza sign above the Jays bullpen, then teammates told him it had extra cheese.

"I never saw it land," said Howard, who will also participate in this year's CENTURY 21 Home Run Derby. "I got back to the bench and they were like, 'Second level.' I was like, 'OK.' Nice swing."

Howard will be joined at first by St. Louis' Albert Pujols and Houston's Lance Berkman. Howard also took satisfaction in having been voted in via the ballot filled out by managers and his peers.

"The fans are very important, but at the same time when guys around the league recognize you, it's a great feeling," he said.

Asked where this ranks on his list of personal accomplishments, Howard smiled.

"It's up there," he said. "It's gotta be top three. I don't know what the other two are yet."

Could Rookie of the Year be in there?

"Yeah, it can be a tie."

Though he didn't say it, No. 1 might be reserved for his role in a World Series championship, something he hopes will someday happen.

Utley agreed, but it's still a moment to bask in the accomplishment of having been voted to start by the fans. It's an honor bestowed to teammates Bobby Abreu and Jimmy Rollins in the past, and Utley is the first Phillies second baseman voted in since Mariano Duncan in 1994.

"It's exciting. I'm going to try to take it all in and have a good time," Utley said.

Despite sporting a losing record, the Phillies are one of four NL teams with at least two All-Stars, joining the Braves, Cardinals and Mets. The first-place Mets lead the way with six representatives.

Though Utley started slow in the voting, he eventually overtook Astros veteran Craig Biggio. The left-handed swinger is having a second prime season, with 16 homers and 49 RBIs through Sunday.

For Gordon, this season marks a resurgence for the 38-year-old closer, who had spent the previous two seasons setting up for Yankees closer Mariano Rivera. He'll see his good friend in the Steel City, as Rivera was named to the AL roster. Gordon was an All-Star in 1998 and 2004, with the Red Sox and Yankees, respectively.

Gordon took the news in businesslike fashion, and put the emphasis on the team's performance.

"I just thank God it worked out well for me," he said. "Still, I wish we were playing a lot better. It's still an honor and very important to me. Wins and losses are the most important thing in this game. I've been an All-Star before, so I know what that feels like, but I've never won a World Series."

Gordon acknowledged that it won't be one and done for Howard and Utley.

"They have many more," Gordon said.

As for Howard, make no mistake regarding his excitement, but this is still something he expects of himself.

"I have high expectations," Howard said. "It's not something I went out to focus on, but at the same time if went out and did what I was capable of, then hopefully it would land this way. I have goals, to try and play at an All-Star caliber level."

Ken Mandel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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