A season after winning his first Gold Glove, Molina was named to his first All-Star team on Sunday, and as a starter, no less. He was voted in by fans to the National League starting lineup, joining superstar teammate Pujols. It's the eighth time as an All-Star and seventh straight for Pujols, so he'll be able to show his friend and teammate the ropes. Ryan Franklin is also a first-time All-Star, recognized for his outstanding first half as the Cards closer.
If the experience will be new to Molina and Franklin, at least the ballpark will be familiar. The 2009 All-Star Game will be played at Busch Stadium in St. Louis on July 14.
"It's a big deal," Molina said. "It makes you feel good. I'm happy for my family, happy for the people of St. Louis. It's going to be special for me."
Manager Tony La Russa said the Cardinals' All-Stars -- especially the two first-timers -- received a hearty cheer from their teammates when the news was announced on Sunday afternoon.
"That was very neat," La Russa said. "The guys gave them a standing ovation when it was announced. And it has great meaning, you could see it in both their faces. They both wanted it badly. It's well-deserved."
The 80th Major League Baseball All-Star Game will be televised nationally by FOX Sports, in Canada by Rogers Sportsnet and Sportsnet HD and televised around the world by Major League Baseball International, with pregame ceremonies beginning at 7 p.m. CT. 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.
In addition to being voted as a starter, Pujols was the top online vote-getter and the top overall vote-getter in both leagues. La Russa will serve as a coach for the NL team, and third-base coach Jose Oquendo will manage the World Team in the Futures Game.
Molina held off a hard charge from the Braves' Brian McCann as voting wound to a close. In the end, fans went with the all-around game of Molina, who could easily have two or three Gold Gloves, over the superior offense of McCann. Franklin was a selection of NL manager Charlie Manuel, for whom he played when he was with the Phillies in 2006.
"That says a lot," Franklin said. "I can't wait to thank Charlie. We had a good relationship my little time I was in Philadelphia. I think he noticed that I've been having a good year. He's one of the main guys who got me started relieving. I signed with Philadelphia to be a starter, and he put me in the bullpen. I didn't like it much, but I thank him every time I see him for that."
Molina entered Sunday hitting .278 with a .346 on-base percentage and a .380 slugging percentage, no offensive slouch for a catcher. But he shines on defense, where he has thrown out 44 percent of would-be basestealers and picked off four baserunners as well. Molina's influence extends beyond actually throwing out baserunners; he's a deterrent as well. He's second in the league in innings caught, yet 20 backstops have seen more steals attempted against them. Only the bold and the foolish attempt to steal against Molina.
"It's important and nice to see that the fans appreciate what he does," said Cardinals ace Chris Carpenter. "He's a big-time player, does a nice job there behind home plate working with us as a staff."
Franklin, in his first full season as Cardinals closer, has solidified the back end of a bullpen that was often shaky in 2008. He has converted 20 saves in 21 chances, and has an ERA below 1.00.
His enjoyment of the honor is increased by a near-miss two years earlier. Franklin, then a setup man, thought he had a legitimate shot at making the 2007 team. This time he was not denied, and it clearly meant the world to him.
"It's a cool feeling," said Franklin, who has made no secret of his desire to be an All-Star. "I just can't wait to experience it with my son and my family. It just really hasn't sunk in yet."
Pujols, meanwhile, was voted in by fans for the fourth time in his career, and the second time as a first baseman. He was also voted in as an outfielder and a third baseman.
He will be in the starting lineup for the sixth time, counting his two appearances as designated hitter. Whereas in some years it's been close for Pujols, though, there was no doubt about his election in 2009. Pujols has been unquestionably the dominant player in the NL in '09, leading the league in home runs, RBIs, runs, slugging percentage, total bases, walks and on-base percentage. He obliterated the competition in voting, receiving 5,397,374 votes, the second-highest total in Major League Baseball history.
"I'm just blessed," Pujols said. "I thank God for allowing me to have the opportunity to be healthy every year, to contribute for my team and to get the rewards with that during the season. I'm really humbled, and hopefully I can continue to do it and put up my numbers and stay healthy."
Major League Baseball has made Pujols a centerpiece of its promotion for this year's All-Star Game, so it's only appropriate that the superstar is not only on the NL club but in the starting lineup. He said he does not know yet whether he will participate in the State Farm Home Run Derby.
Now he, Molina, Franklin and La Russa will be trying to deliver the NL's first win in the Midsummer Classic since 1996.
"We talk about it, and I told [Molina] that it's one of the best experiences and great rewards that you get during the season, besides winning a World Series," Pujols said.
"Catching almost every game, the way that he calls a game, and having a great year so far, [it's] well-deserved. And Franklin, don't even talk about it, just look at his numbers."
Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.