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Rays send record 4 to All-Star Game

Baseball fans have spoken. They dig the Longo.

For the second straight year, the Tampa Bay Rays’ Evan Longoria was voted to the All-Star Game, this time as the starting third baseman for the American League after receiving the second-most fan votes in the AL behind New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter.

Longoria was one of a team-record four Rays named Sunday to the All-Star Game, which will be played July 14 in St. Louis. The Rays sent three to Yankee Stadium last July.

Joining Longoria are left fielder Carl Crawford, shortstop Jason Bartlett and second baseman Ben Zobrist.

“I think it just shows a lot about the steps that the team has taken as far as in the fans’ eyes,” Longoria told reporters Sunday afternoon in Arlington, Texas. “It’s definitely a huge honor. Obviously, with the caliber of third basemen there are in the American League, to be the leading vote getter is a tremendous honor.”

The Rays could add a fifth player to the All-Star roster if first baseman Carlos Peña finishes first in the “Final Vote,” an online campaign where fans can vote among five players for the final roster spot in each league. Longoria won the “Final Vote” last year with a record 9 million votes.

“Hopefully ’Los can get in on the final vote like I did last year, and there will be a bunch of us there to enjoy it together,” Longoria said.

There is a bunch already when you consider Rays manager Joe Maddon will manage the American League team and his coaching staff will be there to help coach.

Longoria is the second Ray voted to the squad as a starter. Jose Canseco was voted as the designated hitter in 1999 but missed the game after having back surgery.

Crawford, who leads the majors with 40 stolen bases and is third in the majors with 104 hits, is headed to his team-record third All-Star Game. He was a reserve in the 2004 game played in his native Houston, and homered for his only All-Star Game hit in 2007 at San Francisco.

Bartlett, who leads all major league shortstops in batting, finished second in the fan voting behind Jeter.

“Last year he was voted as our MVP, and a lot of people questioned that. Now you’re seeing what he does for our team when he’s here right now,” Maddon said in Arlington. “By far, even though he played so well last year, I think he’s played even better this year. Talking about a complete game offense, and his defense is even better, he’s really elevated his game.”

Both Bartlett and Zobrist will be playing in their first All-Star games.

“I just think back to a couple years ago, and how humbled I was by that situation, getting sent down to Triple-A and getting injured later on that year, and getting injured the beginning of 2008, too. It was definitely difficult,” Zobrist said before Sunday night’s game against the Rangers. “But now after making some strides at the end of last year and I feel like I’m making some strides this year, it was far beyond what I thought was going to happen coming into the year. I’m very blessed.”

Zobrist began the season as the Rays’ super utility player, starting games at second base, shortstop, third base and all three outfield positions. He became the Rays’ regular second baseman after Akinori Iwamura was injured May 24.

Zobrist, who has a career-high 16 home runs, is on pace to hit 30. He also leads the American League in on-base percentage and on-base plus slugging percentage.

“I’m looking at everybody else who was available or eligible and I just felt like Zobrist’s numbers stacked up really well,” Maddon said. “You want to be fair to everybody else, but you want to be fair to your own group at the same time. I just looked at the whole thing and felt like Ben definitely belonged on the team also.”

That Zobrist is a switch-hitter and can play so many positions helped Maddon make the decision.

“It’s not just an exhibition game, and I think you have to consider that when you’re doing this,” Maddon said. “When you’re playing the game to win, Zobrist becomes really valuable late as he may pinch hit if there’s an injury. If the game does go extra innings, he could do so many extra things. So I thought his defensive abilities fit. But offensively he can’t be denied what he’s done this year.”