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Martin leads Dodgers trio to San Fran

Martin leads Dodgers trio to San Fran

LOS ANGELES -- Catcher Russell Martin, starting pitcher Brad Penny and closer Takashi Saito will represent the Dodgers on the National League team at the 78th All-Star Game in San Francisco July 10.

Martin, in his first full year in the Major Leagues, will start the game behind the plate, having won fan balloting with nearly 300,000 votes more than former Dodger Paul Lo Duca. Penny, the starter for the National League last year, earned his second All-Star berth through player voting. Saito, a four-time All-Star in Japan, will be making his first Major League All-Star appearance in his first full season, having been named to the team by National League manager Tony La Russa.

No other National League West team had more than two named All-Stars.

"It's quite an honor, and we're proud for them," said manager Grady Little.

The 78th Major League Baseball All-Star Game will be televised nationally by FOX Sports, in Canada by Rogers Sportsnet and Sportsnet HD, and around the world by Major League Baseball International, with pregame ceremonies beginning at 5 p.m. PT. ESPN Radio will provide exclusive national radio coverage, while MLB.com will provide extensive online coverage. XM will provide satellite radio play-by-play coverage of the XM All-Star Futures Game.

The 24-year-old Martin, the first Canadian All-Star catcher, entered Sunday's play batting a team-high .297 with nine home runs and a team-high 53 RBIs. He has 15 stolen bases, breaking a 45-year-old Dodgers record for a catcher, previously held by John Roseboro. He leads league catchers in hits, runs scored, RBIs, steals, walks, and slugging and on-base percentage, and leads the league in game-winning RBIs.

Martin was drafted in 2002, and his selection is a milestone in the rebirth of the Dodgers' scouting and player-development system. The most recent Draft to produce a Dodgers All-Star was 1993, when they took 25th-rounder Lo Duca (Paul Konerko was drafted in 1994 and became an All-Star for the White Sox; Ted Lilly was drafted in 1996 and became an All-Star for Toronto). Catchers Martin, Lo Duca and Mike Piazza are the only Dodgers drafted since 1979 to become All-Stars for the club.

"I'll be like a kid in a candy store," said Martin. "I don't think I'll realize how cool it will be until I get there. I thank the fans who voted for me. I play hard, and they gave me recognition by voting for me. It's something I dreamed about as a kid."

The 29-year-old Penny (10-1, 2.00) is tied for the league lead in wins and leads the league in ERA, surpassing his first half of a year ago, when he was 10-2 with a 2.91 and was the starting pitcher for the National League All-Star team. The Dodgers are 14-3 in his starts, and 15 have been quality starts. He's allowed only two home runs in 112 2/3 innings.

All-Star Game Coverage

"I'm excited. It's tough to make," said Penny. "It's my eighth year and second time. I realize it's an honor, and hopefully, the National League can win this year. I'd love the chance to start again, but a lot of guys deserve the chance."

Penny, who let Martin stay in his house last year after the catcher had been promoted from Triple-A, was happy for his former houseguest.

"Not many catchers go, and he gets to start it," Penny said. "He gets in his first time ... He probably feels like it's easy to make an All-Star team, but he deserves it, and I think he'll be a great catcher for a long time."

The 37-year-old Saito is 1-0 with 22 saves and a 1.34 ERA (league-best among relievers) in 33 appearances. He's converted 46 of his first 49 save opportunities, breaking former Dodger Eric Gagne's previous record. His ratio of strikeouts to walks (42:3) is the best in baseball for pitchers with at least 30 innings pitched, and opponents are batting only .175 against him. Last year he set the franchise mark for a rookie, with 24 saves.

Saito is the second Dodger from Japan to make the All-Star Game after trailblazer Hideo Nomo, who started the game in 1995.

"Nomo was a great player, and to follow in his footsteps is an unbelievable thing," said Saito. "It's not something I can believe is really happening. It's almost a dream-like feeling. It's hard to find the words to say how I feel. I never really thought it would come to this."

Saito believes that an All-Star selection in the Major Leagues is more difficult to obtain than one in Japan.

"There are more teams here, and only one game, where there are three All-Star Games in Japan," he said. "The chances of getting picked in Japan are greater. So it's a really unbelievable feeling."

Said Martin about Saito: "He deserves it. You've got to be happy for him. To come over here from Japan, to be on the verge of the end of his career and now he's the man again, it's great for him."

The 2003 season marked the introduction of the Player Ballot to the All-Star selection process. Each league's players, managers and coaches elect eight position players and eight pitchers from their league. Catchers and infielders who finish in the top two at their position on the Player Ballot, and outfielders among the top six, are assured of making the All-Star Team. In instances where the winners of the Player Ballot are also fan-elected starters, the player with the next highest amount of votes on the Player Ballot makes the All-Star Team. Eight pitchers - five starters and three relievers - become All-Stars through the Player Ballot. The manager of each World Series team from the prior season - in this year's case, Detroit's Jim Leyland and St. Louis' Tony La Russa - then fills the remaining slots on their respective teams, ensuring that one player from all 30 clubs is named to the All-Star Game.

Ken Gurnick 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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