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8 Jul 2010 15:59:00 UTC-0400

Postseason feel to All-Star Final Vote

Several members of potential playoff clubs dot ballot

07/04/10 9:00 PM ET

The 2010 All-Star Game MLB.com Final Vote Sponsored by Sprint is underway, lasting until 4 p.m. ET on Thursday, and this one is set up as a real playoff-picture passion contest. For the first time in the event's nine-year history it features 10 candidates who all play for Major League Baseball clubs that expect to seriously contend in the second half.

Managers Joe Girardi of the American League and Charlie Manuel of the National League have presented you with their five nominees per league, so you have the privilege and challenge of deciding the 34th, and final, roster spots for the 81st All-Star Game on July 13 in Anaheim.

AL nominees are first baseman Paul Konerko of the White Sox, right fielder Nick Swisher of the Yankees, first baseman Kevin Youkilis of the Red Sox, left fielder Delmon Young of the Twins and third baseman Michael Young of the Rangers.

NL nominees are closer Heath Bell of the Padres, outfielder Carlos Gonzalez of the Rockies, first baseman Joey Votto of the Reds, closer Billy Wagner of the Braves and third baseman Ryan Zimmerman of the Nationals.

The Final Vote follows another remarkable run of balloting by fans to determine the starting lineups, which were announced on TBS along with the rest of the rosters during the 2010 All-Star Game Selection Show. Overall, during the past three years of online All-Star balloting for the elected starters, fans have cast more than 650 million votes at MLB.com and the 30 individual club sites, including this year's 220 million votes.

Last year, Phillies center fielder Shane Victorino and Tigers third baseman Brandon Inge were the Final Vote winners. Victorino broke the Final Vote record with 15.6 million votes, and Inge set the AL record at 11.8 million. Their combined vote totals were more than 10 million above the total votes received a year earlier by winners Evan Longoria of the Rays and Corey Hart of the Brewers, reflecting the relentless growth in fan participation.

Mobile voting is available exclusively on Sprint, Nextel and Boost capable mobile phones, and fans can text the word "Vote" to 1122 to receive the 2010 All-Star Game Final Vote Sponsored by Sprint ballot. Message and data rates may apply. In Canada, fans can text "Vote" to 88555. Standard text rates apply.

Clubs will form voting alliances, balloting will be intense, fans will use the brand-new MLB.com Campaign Manager capacity to get out the vote and tally points to earn recognition, and you will get updates right here every day along the way. The winners will be announced exclusively on MLB.com shortly after the voting ends.

Here is a closer look at the candidates:

American League

Paul Konerko, 1B, White Sox
This is the ceremonial White Sox entry. No team has had more Final Vote participants; the White Sox have fielded a candidate in seven of the nine years. That includes two winners, Scott Podsednik in 2005 and A.J. Pierzynski in '06, and we call your attention to '04, when Konerko and teammate Frank Thomas wound up splitting the vote in a dead heat for second as Hideki Matsui of the Yankees won.

Konerko will have no competition from his teammates this time, and the White Sox will be showing off all that imaginative social-media prowess on his behalf. Of course, Konerko has done all of his talking on the field: He had 20 homers and 57 RBIs through Saturday. Konerko is a quiet leader for a White Sox club that has vaulted back into AL Central contention.

Nick Swisher, RF, Yankees
Swisher has been a catalyst for a Yankees club that has baseball's best record and is trying to repeat as World Series champions for the first time since 2000. He had 13 homers and and 47 RBIs to go with a .287 average through Saturday. He also is the prohibitive favorite in this field on the social-media front, boasting easily the largest following (1,217,654) of any Major Leaguer on Twitter.

One might think the Yankees would be a powerhouse in the Final Vote given their wide-reaching fan base and voting bloc potential, but it rarely has worked out that way. They are 1-for-5 in Final Vote candidates, with their last three coming up short. The only exception was Matsui in 2004, and even he fell short the following year, splitting the vote with teammate Derek Jeter. Yes, Jeter was a Final Vote bridesmaid. Albert Pujols, Roy Halladay ... there is a long list of marquee names that failed to get your attention for that last roster spot.

"Everybody wants to be an All-Star," Swisher said. "I've yet to be one, and I think it would be an absolute honor to represent the Yankees in the All-Star Game."

Kevin Youkilis, 1B, Red Sox
Red Sox Nation knows how to win these things. Outfielder Johnny Damon won the first Final Vote in 2002, catcher Jason Varitek won it the next year, and reliever Hideki Okajima won it in 2007. That's a perfect 3-for-3 whenever they have a player on the Final Vote ballot, and that makes Boston the winningest team in this competition.

Will that be relevant in 2010? Times have changed a little bit. Social media is a huge factor now, with Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, YouTube and so many viral platforms. Their candidate this time has been in typical Youk form. He has a .297 average, 15 long balls, 50 RBIs, 62 runs through Saturday -- you know what you are getting. It wasn't the best of times early this season for the Red Sox, but now they are right there in the hunt with the Yankees and Rays atop the AL East.

"It's one of those things where it's out of your control and it's up to the fans now, and there are four [other] guys who are probably very deserving, too," Youkilis said. "You know, if I make it, it will be an honor and it will be a good thing."

Teammate Dustin Pedroia, on the disabled list and walking with crutches, said: "I've got a lot of free time. I'll be voting like crazy for Youk. Hopefully he gets into that thing. His numbers are ridiculous."

Delmon Young, LF, Twins
This is a breakout season for Young, who has helped the Twins stay around the top of the AL Central for most of the way. After running hot and cold for the majority of the first two months of the season, Young found a groove in June, batting .320 with 24 RBIs and 13 runs through Saturday. Maybe Twins fans will be able to do what they were unable to do in their previous Final Vote opportunities, going 0-for-3 with Lew Ford in 2004, Torii Hunter in 2005 and Francisco Liriano in 2006.

Just ask the Rays what he has meant. On Thursday night in Minnesota, Young hit a solo homer to tie the score, and the next night he ruined David Price's bid at a 12th win by stroking an RBI double to tie it and scored what proved to be the game-winner. Young has nine homers, 54 RBIs and -- most notably -- only 35 strikeouts through Saturday.

"You're not trying to think of anything like that, especially when the Tigers came in here and boat-raced us the first game. So it's the last thing on your mind when you're trying to catch a playoff spot," Young said.

When asked if he would stay up all night to vote for himself, Young added: "I definitely won't be doing that. It's out of my control. Just be thankful that everything's going pretty good this year, especially after last year, missing time and going home and everything. I'm just honored that I was even mentioned."

Michael Young, 3B, Rangers
Will he be the third consecutive third baseman to win the AL Final Vote, following Inge last year and Longoria the year before? There are a lot of reasons to think he could, starting with a .314 average, 11 homers, 55 runs and 51 RBIs through Saturday for a team that has led the AL West for a while now and posted the best 75-game start in franchise history. Young's 10th full season is shaping up as one of his best.

There is another good reason to want him on the AL roster if you're a fan of the AL: He is money in late innings of the Midsummer Classic. Young was named Ted Williams Most Valuable Player at the 2006 All-Star Game in Pittsburgh after hitting the game-winning triple off Trevor Hoffman, and it was Young's walk-off sac fly in the 15th inning that finally ended that epic 2008 battle at Yankee Stadium.

With Young on the ballot, it means Seattle now is the only club never to have a player in the Final Vote.

"I'm surprised. I felt like he may have been the player's choice because they know exactly what he's brought to the All-Star game the past five years," Rangers manager Ron Washington said. "Now we've just got to get out and campaign to make sure Michael makes that All-Star team."

National League

Heath Bell, RHP, Padres
Flash back to last summer: Bell was on his way to leading the NL with 42 saves, and he was selected as a reserve for the All-Star Game in St. Louis. Manuel brought him in to maintain a 3-3 tie in the 8th inning, but Bell gave up a triple to Curtis Granderson, then the go-ahead sacrifice fly by Adam Jones. Bell was the losing pitcher in his first All-Star Game, "threw my glove, kicked a door," and now, of course, wants a chance for atonement.

That's up to you. Bell converted his 23rd save on Saturday to preserve the Padres' Major League-leading 12th shutout. He is a steady force for the NL West leaders. He's part of the San Diego bullpen that calls itself "The Pen-itentiary" and goes by Bell's credo: "Got 'em on lock down!" It was five years ago that another Padres closer, Hoffman, hoped to get into the All-Star Game via this route but came up short. That was in the days of Hell's Bells around year-old PETCO Park, and now it's Bell's Hell if you are an opposing batter.

"If the San Diego fans get out there and vote, and if I keep doing what I'm doing and hopefully fans watch me on TV, maybe they'll vote me in over some other guys," Bell said after picking up the win in San Diego's 3-2 walk-off victory over the Astros on Sunday. "I can text my friends, go out there and pitch the best I can and vote as many times as I can."

Carlos Gonzalez, CF, Rockies
They call him CarGo in Colorado, and many fans are about to learn a lot more about this player who is bursting onto the Major League scene for a Rockies club only five games behind San Diego entering Sunday. That is how the Final Vote often works -- the way it was for another Venezuelan, Pablo Sandoval, in last year's balloting. In his third season, Gonzalez had 13 homers, 48 RBIs, 12 steals and 48 runs through Saturday.

This is the second try for a Rockies candidate. The first? You have to go back to the beginning in 2002, when Larry Walker came up third. Things have changed a lot since then, and that new @RealRockies Twitter account came along just in time.

Smiling at a press conference, which included the two Rockies who were selected -- pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez and injured shortstop Troy Tulowitzki, who won't play because of a fractured left wrist -- Gonzalez gave a simple pitch: "Vote for me."

"We're good players, really talented players," he said of the Rockies. "We just need to keep playing the way we play and we'll be there. Everybody is supporting me, all my teammates. I feel really happy. Hopefully, I'll get to go. If not, I'll watch these guys on TV."

Joey Votto, 1B, Reds
"I was disappointed. I would've liked to have gotten in on the first vote, but I still consider this an honor to give myself a chance to go to the All-Star Game with a pretty good group of guys."

That reaction by Votto after the Reds' 14-3 victory at Wrigley Field was shared by many around Cincinnati, especially considering that at this rate he's a likely NL Most Valuable Player candidate for the Central leaders. But that's what happens when you have an unbelievably deep pool of outstanding first basemen in one league, and it's about time that Reds fans see for themselves what all this Final Vote excitement is about. He's their first nominee.

Votto has the stats: 19 homers, 57 RBIs, a .313 average, 53 runs, only two errors through Saturday -- easily enough to hang with the elite at NL first base. What he needs is some public recognition. Whether he gets enough of that through the massive reach of the Final Vote will be seen this week, and the Reds have their work cut out for them because the team is away all week, visiting the Cubs and Mets. They are fired up about this season in Cincinnati, and you can expect that the thrill of contention will be felt in this Final Vote race.

"I'm very disappointed for Joey, but he still has a shot. I urge everybody to go on the internet and vote for Joey," Reds manager Dusty Baker said. "Joey probably has as much competition at that position as anybody he's competing against in name recognition. He probably has equal to better numbers. Everybody knows Albert [Pujols]. Albert is still Albert. [The Padres'] Adrian Gonzalez, he's carrying his team offensively. There are some tremendous first basemen out there."

Billy Wagner, LHP, Braves
Will the third time be a charm for Wagner, or will he become the Susan Lucci of the Final Vote? Atlanta's closer becomes the first player to appear on three Final Vote ballots, and the crazy part is that he has done it with the Phillies (2005), Mets (2006) and now Braves. Wagner is pretty much the official Final Vote representative of the NL East.

All that matters for Final Vote is right now, this season, and you probably noticed that the Braves are 15 games over .500 for the first time this season, on a roll atop the NL East during the Bobby Cox Farewell Tour. There has been a lot of magic at Turner Field, and Wagner has provided much of it. He has converted 17 of 20 save opportunities through Saturday, blowing one Friday night against the Marlins but bouncing right back the next day to shut them down. He's also 5-0.

Ryan Zimmerman, 3B, Nationals
Feel like a tough choice yet? Last year, Zimmerman was chosen as a reserve for his first All-Star Game, and he flied out to center off Edwin Jackson, then flied out to right off Joe Nathan. Meanwhile, his partner on the left side of the 2009 Nationals infield, Cristian Guzman, was on the Final Vote ballot and failed to capture the voters' imagination.

Now, it's Zimmerman's turn, and one would think his chances are better -- especially given the increased electricity surrounding Nationals baseball this season. Zimmerman has 13 homers and 40 RBIs through Saturday and is as good as it gets at the hot corner defensively. The Nationals went through a tough June, but they expect to remain in the chase. They are home throughout this Final Vote balloting to face Bell and the NL West-leading Padres, so that might work in his favor.

"Zim is just an all-around All-Star, regardless if he makes the All-Star team or not," Nationals teammate Willie Harris said. "He is an All-Star in our locker room -- he is a leader, and he's our guy. That's all [there is] to it. He's a star, even when he's not playing baseball. He's an All-Star guy." It's actually the third overall attempt by this franchise. The first was way up north during the 2003 season, when a young shortstop named Orlando Cabrera failed to stir interest as an NL candidate from the Montreal Expos -- their second-to-last season before moving to D.C.

There still has never been a second baseman nor shortstop to win the Final Vote, and that's not going to be a possibility in 2010, either.

The All-Star Game Sprint Final Vote program has seen nearly 200 million votes cast since its inception in 2002. Previous winners of the All-Star Game Final Vote Sponsored by Sprint, in addition to Victorino and Inge, are: Longoria (AL, 2008); Hart (NL, 2008); Okajima (AL, 2007); Chris Young (NL, 2007); Pierzynski (AL, 2006); Nomar Garciaparra (NL, 2006); Podsednik (AL, 2005); Roy Oswalt (NL, 2005); Matsui (AL, 2004); Bobby Abreu (NL, 2004); Varitek (AL, 2003); Geoff Jenkins (NL, 2003); Damon (AL, 2002); and Andruw Jones (NL, 2002).

The fun won't end with the Final Vote, either. The final phase of All-Star Game voting will have fans once again participate in the official voting for the All-Star Game Ted Williams Most Valuable Player Award presented by Chevrolet via the 2010 All-Star Game MLB.com MVP Vote Sponsored by Sprint. Carl Crawford of the Rays won the award in 2009.

The 81st Major League Baseball All-Star Game will be televised nationally by FOX, in Canada by Rogers Sportsnet, Sportsnet HD and Le Reseau de Sport, and around the world by Major League Baseball International, with pregame ceremonies beginning at 8 p.m. ET. ESPN Radio will provide exclusive national radio coverage. MLB Network, MLB.com and Sirius XM also will provide comprehensive All-Star Game coverage.

Mark Newman is enterprise editor of MLB.com. Follow @MLB on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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