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Give these guys a spot

When Major League Baseball names its All-Star teams today, the usual suspects will be rounded up and some ambitious newcomers will receive validation they have craved. But if the decision-makers are wise, congratulatory calls also will be made to a handful of normally unsung veterans, for whom the trip to St. Louis would be a delight.

Jason Marquis, Tim Wakefield, Ryan Franklin and Russell Branyan have combined to play 49 seasons in the big leagues, many of them on good teams. But they always have been glue guys, holding teams together rather than performing in feature roles.

But their work in 2009 has been of All-Star quality. If their peers do not vote them onto All-Star teams, then managers Charlie Manuel and Joe Maddon should find ways to include them.

They’re as worthy as their perseverance is admirable.

At 30, Marquis is the youngest of this group. He is also probably the easiest sell, having led the Colorado Rockies’ unlikely resurgence since the Cubs dumped him in the winter.

Having invested heavily to re-sign Ryan Dempster, Cubs general manager Jim Hendry traded Marquis for since-released reliever Luis Vizcaino. Hendry saved almost $6 million in the deal, allowing him to afford free-agent outfielder Milton Bradley. Marquis had gone 23-18 in his two seasons in Chicago but always worked at the back end of Lou Piniella’s rotation.

He was Colorado’s fourth starter when 2009 began but entered selection weekend as the only National Leaguer with 10 victories. He was eighth in the league in innings, working almost seven per start for a Rockies team that had gone 21-5 since June 4 to climb into playoff contention.

“How can he not be in the All-Star Game?” teammate Huston Street asked.

There’s nothing tricky about Marquis. He relies on a natural sinker and threw 66 of 86 pitches for strikes during a two-hitter Tuesday against the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Wakefield, 42, is at the other end of the spectrum, using a knuckleball as the staple of his 17-year career.

Like Marquis, he has won 10 games after opening the season as Boston’s No. 4 starter. Teammate Josh Beckett (9-3, 3.67) could go to St. Louis ahead of Wakefield, but the Red Sox wouldn’t have their division lead without the old man.

Franklin, 36, was expected to serve as a setup man for Tony La Russa’s Cardinals but grabbed the closer’s job when Jason Motte failed out of spring training. He entered the weekend tied for fourth in the National League with 19 saves and tied for second in save percentage, with only one blown save. His 0.87 ERA was the best in the league for anyone with 20-plus innings pitched.

Branyan, 33, has been a free-agent steal for rookie Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik. He moved into a regular spot at first base in the spring and entered the weekend hitting .297 with a team-high 20 home runs.

That may not get him to the All-Star Game – his competition includes Mark Teixeira, Justin Morneau, Kevin Youkilis, Miguel Cabrera, Carlos Pena and Paul Konerko – but his .997 OPS is the second best among American League first basemen.


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