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AL notes: Francona open to suggestions

AL notes: Francona open to suggestions

DETROIT -- Terry Francona sought out the advice of a number of managers and coaches, including New York Yankees manager Joe Torre, when making game plans for the 76th All-Star Game.

"I talked to people I thought was appropriate. I talked to Joe a little bit -- he's done it more than anybody else -- and he was actually very helpful," the Boston/American League manager said during batting practice Tuesday. "He was actually terrific when I told him [Yankees closer Mariano] Rivera would go five or six [innings]. He didn't seem to have a big problem with that, which I though was pretty cool, since we've got [the Yankees] for four [games] this week."

All kidding aside, Francona sought Torre's advice on how to use the Yankees closer during the game.

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Francona said he hoped starter Mark Buehrle would go two innings, but if the White Sox pitcher runs into trouble, the Devil Rays' Danys Baez will be the pitcher summoned if Francona needs to make a change during an inning before the sixth.

Bartolo Colon of the Angels, Johan Santana of the Twins, Matt Clement of the Red Sox, Jon Garland of the White Sox and Kenny Rogers of the Rangers are tentatively scheduled to follow Buehrle.

"If things go well, that gets us through seven innings with a big lead," Francona said. "Then we have hopefully [Cleveland's Bob] Wickman, [Baltimore's B.J.] Ryan, Rivera and [Minnesota's Joe] Nathan to get us through two innings and a win."

Oakland's Justin Duchscherer will be held in case the game goes extra innings.

"Justin Duscherer is probably the guy that covers that role. He can go a couple or three [innings] if he needs to," Francona said. "No one is going to be stretched out. We want every guy to leave here like they came health-wise. We want to do it right. This is the safest and best way."

Party crashers: The top-to-bottom strength of the American League East has captured more attention this season, but the AL Central could be the division furnishing the Wild Card team this season.

If so, it would end a string of 10 consecutive years without a Wild Card entry from the AL Central. Since the playoffs were expanded in 1995, the AL Wild Card has come from the East Division seven times and the West on the three other occasions.

In a year where the AL East -- the division that has furnished the Wild Card the last two years -- has three teams [Baltimore, Boston and New York] six or more games above .500, and a fourth [Toronto] at .500, two teams making the playoffs from outside that division might surprise some people. But it would not come as a shock to some of the Central division's All-Stars.

"It would be nice to see," White Sox first baseman Paul Konerko said. "I know everybody thought the Wild Card is coming from the East probably, [and] our division has taken a lot of abuse over the last few years about how bad we are. Probably rightfully so in most of the cases. The first place team was good and the other teams behind them were not very solid, so it would be a nice feather in our caps.

"I hope we're one of them. You look at Minnesota and you look at Cleveland, especially Cleveland, but actually both of them, are not teams you would want to get in the first round of the playoffs. The teams have some good dynamics. You could look at all three of these teams [White Sox, Twins and Indians] and say there's one way [two could get in the playoffs]."

All-Star Game 2005

Chicago leads Minnesota by nine games in the division race. The Twins (48-38) lead the Wild Card standings, with the Orioles (47-40) a game and a half back, and the Indians (47-41), Yankees (46-40) and Rangers (46-40) tied for third place at two games back.

"I think we all have a fair shot at it," Wickman said.

Nathan said he wouldn't be surprised to see two teams from the AL Central in the playoffs.

"The way [the White Sox] have played, and with us trying to catch them and Cleveland trying to catch them, we're going to have to do a lot of things right to catch them," Nathan said. "You never know though. There's a lot of time left, and while we're still trying to catch them, obviously the Wild Card is a possibility too, and I'm sure Cleveland feels the same way and so do a lot of teams.

"We still feel like we need to play a little more consistently to get it done. The Yankees had a rough first half and we don't expect them to have the same thing happen in the second half, so whoever wins [the Wild Card] is going to have to step up in the second half."

White Sox center fielder Scott Podsednik was another who wouldn't be surprised to see two AL Central teams playing in October, but said it was too early to think about the possibilities.

"We're only halfway there. There's still a lot of games to be played," Podsednik said. "Cleveland's hot, Minnesota isn't going away. Funny things can happen."

Bonderman fan club: Detroit fans aren't the only ones disappointed that Tigers right-hander Jeremy Bonderman isn't on the All-Star team.

"I'd like to see Bonderman here," Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez said. "I think it's always great when a player can represent his team at home in the All-Star Game. It's great Pudge [Rodriguez] is here, but I would have liked to have seen Bonderman here, too."

Francona has been reminded of Bonderman's absence every day since he arrived in Detroit. The fans won't let him forget. Francona was at an All-Star function Monday night and left before 1 a.m.

"[It] would have been later but somebody at the party started telling me I [was terrible] because Jeremy Bonderman didn't make the team, so we made an early exit," Francona said.

When asked to identify the heckler, Francona cracked: "My wife. So we sort of made an earlier exit."

In truth, Francona didn't know who the heckler was.

"Today in the Red Carpet [parade], my daughter was flipping beads out the window. I think one whizzed by that guy," Francona said.

New shoes for A-Rod: Rodriguez was sporting a new pair of white game shoes for the All-Star Game. The Yankees third baseman said he had wanted to wear the white baseball shoes for some time and decided he would wear them at the All-Star Game in honor of his childhood hero, former New York Mets and St. Louis Cardinals first baseman Keith Hernandez.

"He was my favorite player growing up," Rodriguez said. "He wore white, so I thought I'd do it for him. Besides, I like them."

Hillenbrand on the rumor mill: Toronto infielder/designated hitter Shea Hillenbrand is reportedly being eyed by Cleveland and Minnesota.

"You hear all sorts of rumors, but really there's nothing you can do about that," Hillenbrand said. "I haven't been told anything officially, so I don't know. That's part of the business, you can always get traded, but there's not much you can do about it. If it's true, at least it's nice to know other teams are interested in you."

Second chance for Clement: Boston's Clement had hoped his outstanding first half -- the right-hander is 10-2 with a 3.85 ERA -- would merit a berth on the All-Star team, but the former Chicago Cubs pitcher was not originally on the squad.

Only when Toronto right-hander Roy Halladay withdrew because of a broken left leg was Clement added to the team by Francona.

"To have my best first half of a season in my career and fall a little short was disappointing," Clement said. "But you have to realize what the big goal is. The big goal is to get to the World Series. The big goal is getting into the playoffs and winning. Thankfully, I got here. I didn't like how I got here, especially seeing somebody [get hurt] that I admire -- the way he goes about his business and the kind of person he is. But I'm glad and honored to be here."

AL likely to host in 2008: Commissioner Bud Selig said he plans to return the All-Star Game to the alternating format and will likely award the 2008 All-Star Game to an American League city.

Houston hosted the 75th All-Star Game last season and Pittsburgh is the host city next season followed by San Francisco in 2007. After that, look for the rotating format to return with the AL hosting one season and the NL the next.

"We will go back to it," Selig said. "There are obviously a lot of teams that would like to get [the 2008] game."

Selig said a decision on the 2008 Midsummer Classic will probably come after the World Series.

Tampa Bay is the only American League team that hasn't hosted an All-Star Game. Kansas City hasn't had an All-Star Game since 1973, and the last time the event was played at Yankee Stadium was 1977.

Extra bases: First-time All-Star Brian Roberts isn't complaining about all of the attention he's receiving, but admits having a crowd of media around his clubhouse cubicle is kind of strange. "Usually when there are this many people around me, they're asking me about why I've been sent down," Roberts cracked. ... Rivera enjoyed watching the Century 21 Home Run Derby except for one thing: "It was too long, way too long," the Yankees closer said of the 3 1/2-hour event. ... Francona is making his first All-Star Game appearance. He had never managed, coached or played in an All-Star Game before this year. ... Hall of Famer and former Tigers great Al Kaline and another Tigers great, Willie Horton, were scheduled to throw out the ceremonial first pitches for the 76th All-Star Game.

Jim Molony is a writer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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