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Reigning champs soak in All-Star moments

MLB.com @brianmctaggart

The All-Star Game presented by Mastercard is special to the six Astros in Washington, D.C., for Tuesday's game for different reasons.

For third baseman Alex Bregman and pitcher Charlie Morton, it's meaningful because it's their first Midsummer Classic. For pitcher Justin Verlander, it's validation that he's as good as he's ever been at age 35. Jose Altuve, who's a six-time All-Star and reigning AL Most Valuable Player at 28 years old, never takes one for granted.

The All-Star Game presented by Mastercard is special to the six Astros in Washington, D.C., for Tuesday's game for different reasons.

For third baseman Alex Bregman and pitcher Charlie Morton, it's meaningful because it's their first Midsummer Classic. For pitcher Justin Verlander, it's validation that he's as good as he's ever been at age 35. Jose Altuve, who's a six-time All-Star and reigning AL Most Valuable Player at 28 years old, never takes one for granted.

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"I'm as happy as I was my first five All-Stars, and I hope in my career I can get even more," he said. "It's a dream come true. It's a cool experience. You get to play with guys that you don't have the chance to play with every day on the same team, like [Mike] Trout and [Manny] Machado. It's really cool."

Bregman, Morton, Verlander and Altuve join outfielder George Springer and pitcher Gerrit Cole on the AL All-Star team, which is managed by Houston skipper AJ Hinch. The strong Astros flavor in the Midsummer Classic, Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. CT on FOX, is no surprise considering the Astros won the World Series last year and hit this season's All-Star break with 64 wins.

The Astros' contingent is soaking up every minute of the experience in the nation's capital.

"It's really special," Morton said. "This is something that I realized recently really mattered a lot to me. I was like, if it doesn't happen, it doesn't happen, but I realized this is the best I've ever thrown and if it doesn't happen now I'm in trouble. I really wanted it to happen, to have the opportunity to be there."

Video: Altuve, Bregman discuss fashion sense

Morton, who won 14 games last year in his first season in Houston, has put together another strong season, going 11-2 with a 2.96 ERA in 19 starts. He helps anchor an Astros rotation that includes follow All-Star right-handers Verlander (9-5, 2.29 ERA) and Cole (10-2, 2.52 ERA).

Morton, 34, was a late addition to the AL team, and that couldn't have made his teammates happier. He's arguably the most popular player in the clubhouse.

"It's awesome," Verlander said. "He deserves it, and to be able to experience this with him for his first All-Star Game, it's really cool."

Video: Cole talks about how much he admires Morton

Cole smiled when he told the story of arriving at Nationals Park on Monday and having to stop while Morton had a long conversation with Phillies pitcher Aaron Nola. Morton only threw in four games for Philadelphia in 2016 before getting hurt, but it was clear he left an impact on his teammates like he has in Houston.

"I'm thinking, 'Chuck threw 14 innings for the Phillies and played one year, and Aaron Nola is an All-Star and fantastic pitcher and he's got mad respect and mad love for this guy,'" Cole said. "That's the impact Charlie makes wherever he goes."

Bregman, 24, has arguably been the Astros' best offensive player this season, hitting .288 with a team-high 20 homers and 64 RBIs. Having the All-Star Game in Washington is especially meaningful considering his grandfather, Stan Bregman, had a law firm that represented the Washington Senators baseball team.

Stan Bregman negotiated the sale of the team, which moved to Minneapolis and became the Twins. He later negotiated the hiring of baseball great Ted Williams as the manager for a new Washington Senators expansion team. Alex's father, Sam, used to sit on Williams' lap in the clubhouse.

"It's super special," Bregman said.

Like Morton, Cole has rejuvenated his career a bit in Houston. He's changed his repertoire with Astros pitching coach Brent Strom and focused on sustainability with his body and his mechanics. He's struck out 177 batters in 128 1/3 innings.

"I expect to perform well, but this is kind of the cherry on top," he said. "It's a wonderful venue and great to meet other great players in the same position. I'm thankful to be back here and thankful to have the votes from my peers. It's not really a focus going into the year, but it's really rewarding when you do get elected."

Video: Cole wants to hit off Clemens and pitch to Aaron

Springer is no stranger to the big stage. He started for the AL last year in Miami and overcame four strikeouts in Game 1 of the World Series to swat five homers in the following six games en route to being named World Series Most Valuable Player.

"This is why you play, to be in the spotlight, in the moment," he said. "The playoffs are unlike anything else I've experienced in my life. … It's fun to be here and fun to enjoy all this stuff."

Verlander, who won't be available to pitch on Tuesday after throwing 5 2/3 innings on Sunday in Houston, is an All-Star for the seventh time, but this is his first selection since 2013 with the Tigers. He's perhaps throwing the best baseball of his career.

"This one actually kind of has a special place in my heart because I haven't been since 2013 and have been through a lot injury-wise and had surgery and fought back from that," he said. "To be able to be back on my game after some time, it's a special feeling to be here and be able to represent myself and the team."

While watching the 2018 All-Star Game presented by Mastercard live on FOX on Tuesday, fans can submit their choices for the Ted Williams Most Valuable Player Award presented by Chevrolet with the 2018 All-Star Game MLB.com MVP Vote.

The 89th Midsummer Classic will be televised nationally by FOX Sports; in Canada by Rogers Sportsnet and RDS; and worldwide by partners in more than 180 countries. FOX Deportes will provide Spanish-language coverage in the United States, while ESPN Radio and ESPN Radio Deportes will provide exclusive national radio coverage of the All-Star Game. MLB Network, MLB.com and SiriusXM also will provide comprehensive All-Star Week coverage.

For more information about MLB All-Star Week and to purchase tickets, visit AllStarGame.com and follow @MLB and @AllStarGame on social media.

Brian McTaggart has covered the Astros since 2004, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter and listen to his podcast.

Houston Astros, Jose Altuve, Alex Bregman, Gerrit Cole, Charlie Morton, George Springer, Justin Verlander