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Buehrle enjoying return trip to Midsummer Classic

Left-hander one of the 'old guys' at baseball's star-studded event

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MINNEAPOLIS -- As Mark Buehrle spends the next couple of days surrounding himself with some of baseball's other top players, he has reason to feel a better appreciation for this experience than he did any of his previous four All-Star selections.

Since ending a long stint with the White Sox after the 2011 season, Buehrle has experienced a roller-coaster journey that has included some unexpected turns and far too many valleys. But the Blue Jays left-hander has certainly savored the thrill of the ascent he has experienced while earning this latest selection.

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"You appreciate all of them," Buehrle said. "I think I was more in awe when I was younger. I think it was that way for my first few because the guys there were the guys I saw on TV growing up. Now, I'm the old guy."

As he has produced the American League's fifth-best ERA (2.64), Buehrle has proven that Father Time has not yet robbed him of his ability to be successful on the mound. But the 35-year-old southpaw can't ignore the fact that Tim Hudson and Derek Jeter are this year's only other All-Stars who have an All-Star selection dating back to 2002.

"It's nice because I didn't think I'd ever come back to one," said Buehrle, whose four previous All-Star selections came between 2002-09. "You're going on the downhill of your career."

While Buehrle is currently enjoying his fifth All-Star selection, Blue Jays teammate Jose Bautista is experiencing his fifth consecutive All-Star week, the fourth in which he will serve as one of the American League's starting outfielders. Bautista captained the American League in Monday night's Gillette Home Run Derby. One of the members of that AL group would have likely been Blue Jays first baseman/designated hitter Edwin Encarnacion, whose candidacy was erased when he strained his right quad muscle on July 5. Unfortunately, Encarnacion was not even able to travel to Minnesota this week to enjoy his second straight All-Star selection.

"There's always great stuff to see and enjoy," Bautista said. "I don't complain whatsoever. I'm always proud and humble to be chosen."

When Buehrle was 10-1 with a 2.10 ERA through his first 12 starts, there was reason to wonder if he would be reintroduced to the honor he received in 2005, when he served as the AL's starting pitcher. But after going 2-5 with a 3.60 in his past seven starts, he found himself content to just be available to pitch if necessary during Tuesday night's 85th All-Star Game, which takes place at 8 p.m. ET on Tuesday on Sportsnet.

"If there are some younger guys or some hometown guys they want to throw and they tell me they're not going to throw me, it's not going to be the end of the world," Buehrle said. "I'm just here to have fun."

Buehrle is certainly having more fun than he did as he combined to post a 3.95 ERA for two last-place teams. After he signed a lucrative free-agent deal before the 2012 season, he hoped to be part of a group that would reshape the Marlins. Less than a year, later he found himself as part of the talented group that was sent to Toronto to help reshape the Blue Jays.

But things have been different this year. With Buehrle's assistance, the Blue Jays entered the break with confidence that they have the potential to erase their four-game deficit and reclaim first-place status in what should be an interesting AL East race.

"He's a great, talented pitcher," Bautista said. "He managed to have a rough two years, but that doesn't mean he's not as good as he was in the past. He's also making adjustments as he pitches with a 'new repertoire.' He understands that he's been around for a while and he's not going to throw 95 [mph]. He actually embraces the fact that he doesn't throw in the low 90s anymore. Maybe it was a period of adjustment for him, trying to get used to a new style of pitching. He knows he has to execute and locate and he's been doing that for the first three months of the season. It's been unbelievable to play behind him."

Mark Bowman 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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