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Teammates pulling for Final Vote candidates

Teammates pulling for Final Vote candidates

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After a scintillating All-Star Selection Sunday, baseball fans are diving into the 2010 Final Vote, eager for their chance to punch two more tickets to Angel Stadium for the Midsummer Classic.

Consider the players, managers and coaches of Major League Baseball as passionate as those who buy tickets to watch them play. In other words, it's hard to find the heartbeat of grassroots support for these candidates beating any more strongly than it does in their respective clubhouses.

And after their names were revealed Sunday, teammates, coaches and managers were already chiming in with what sounded like carefully prepared campaign endorsements.

The National League players are Padres closer Heath Bell, Rockies outfielder Carlos Gonzalez, Reds first baseman Joey Votto, Braves closer Billy Wagner and Nationals third baseman Ryan Zimmerman, and the Final Vote finalists in the American League are White Sox first baseman Paul Konerko, Yankees outfielder Nick Swisher, Red Sox first baseman Kevin Youkilis, Twins outfielder Delmon Young and Rangers third baseman Michael Young.

They all have good cases for selection, and they all have a ton of support from the men who work alongside them.

A year after Bell led the NL in saves with 42 and appeared in his first All-Star Game, he's a Final Vote candidate, although this year, with 23 saves, he's on pace to outdo his stellar 2009. After getting the win in San Diego's 3-2 victory over the Astros on Sunday, Bell is 4-0 with a 1.72 ERA and 49 strikeouts in 36 2/3 innings for the Major Leagues' top bullpen.

"He's probably the No. 1 guy to go to whenever you need a shut-down inning," Padres starting pitcher Mat Latos said. "He's one of the best at what he does -- that's why he's our closer. If there's going to be one more guy that's going to be [in the All-Star Game], it's got to be someone from our 'pen. He's done an unbelievable job so far this year."

Gonzalez has done an unbelievable job for the Rockies, playing excellent defense in the outfield and coming alive with the bat. That's why he's a major player in the Final Vote proceedings. Through Sunday, the man they call "CarGo" had a .295 batting average and led the Rockies in home runs with 14 and RBIs with 52. He also has homered in three of the Rockies' past six games and has 12 stolen bases on the season.

Teammate Troy Tulowitzki, who was selected as a reserve All-Star shortstop but will not play because of injury, gave Gonzalez some sage advice regarding his teammate's Final Vote candidacy.

"You get a lot of publicity from that," Tulowitzki said. "In a way it can be a blessing in disguise. Not too many people know how great of a player he is. Now there's going to be a campaign, and he'll be advertised more than he would be if he'd gotten selected. There's an opportunity for people to see what he's done."

Naturally, the same can be said for all 10 of these fine players, and one who stands to benefit greatly from it is Votto, who is among NL leaders with a .312 batting average, 19 home runs and 57 RBIs. He also put together a 41-game streak of reaching base, a Major League high for the season.

"I'm very disappointed for Joey, but he still has a shot," Reds manager Dusty Baker said. "I urge everybody to go on the Internet and vote for Joey."

Like first base, the role of the closer is another deep All-Star position, and with Bell already trying to get in via the Final Vote, it will be that much tougher for Wagner, who might be in the final year of a great career, and at the age of 38 is pitching like he's got several good seasons remaining in that left arm.

He has 17 saves and 1.35 ERA, the top mark for any NL reliever with more than two saves. Cubs right-hander Carlos Marmol is the only NL reliever with at least 15 saves who has bettered the .165 opponents batting average that the Braves closer has posted in his first 34 appearances this year. He also reached the 400-save mark for his career on June 25.

And rounding out the NL nominees, Zimmerman has a one-in-five chance of playing in the second All-Star Game of his career, but he'll need fan support to get there.

Zimmerman, who went 3-for-5 with a homer and four RBIs on Sunday against the Mets, as if to validate his Final Vote candidacy, is hitting .286 this year with 14 long balls and 44 RBIs. He's also a reigning Gold Glove winner at the hot corner.

And don't think for a second that the rest of the Nationals don't agree.

"Zim is just an all-around All-Star, regardless if he makes the All-Star team or not," 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."

Over in the AL, the White Sox echo those sentiments when it comes to their longtime leader, Konerko, who has the numbers to match his presence in the clubhouse. Entering Monday's action, Konerko had a .296 average, 20 home runs and 57 RBIs in one of the best first halves of his career.

"Hopefully, he gets in with the vote," said White Sox pitching coach Don Cooper. "Without him offensively, we would be in big trouble this year so far."

Cooper especially knows how important it is for an offense to have that power bat in the middle of the lineup, and in a batting order stacked with home run hitters, Swisher is not-so-quietly holding his own in the Bronx.

Swisher is trying to make the All-Star team for the first time in his career, and he's trying to make an All-Star team like his father, Steve, did with the Chicago Cubs in 1976. His numbers -- .293 average, 13 homers, 47 RBIs, .878 OPS -- say he has every right to be considered, and so does his All-Star-starting teammate, second baseman Robinson Cano.

"I'm telling my people to vote for him," Cano said. "He's having a great year. He's got great numbers. You never know. He might go, and I hope he goes."

The Twins are hoping the same for young outfielder Delmon Young, a former first-round Draft pick who has been methodically showing the All-Star-worthy form so many in baseball have expected to see from him throughout his Major League career.

Young is tied with his All-Star-starting teammate, first baseman Justin Morneau, for the team lead in RBIs (55) and is fourth on the club in home runs (nine). He's batting .295 with 21 doubles, and has nearly matched his RBI and home run total from a year ago. And with his run-scoring single in Sunday's 7-4 loss to the Rays, he has delivered 39 RBIs in the club's past 40 games.

"He's been playing well, and this shows how far he's come in the last couple years as a player," Morneau said. "We'll be campaigning for him for sure. He's had some huge hits for us so far in the first half. I believe he deserves to go, so, hopefully, he'll get in. It would be a lot of fun to have him there."

Delmon isn't the only Young with a solid case, though. Michael Young is well-known in recent All-Star lore for making the past six teams and delivering the game-winning hit for the AL in 2003, the first year of home-field advantage in the World Series being awarded to the winning league.

And this year, Michael Young is having a typically fantastic year -- .307 average, 11 homers, 51 RBIs through Sunday -- for a first-place Rangers club.

"He's the leader of our team, he's gotten big hits, made big plays defensively and he's basically the glue that keeps our team together," Rangers second baseman Ian Kinsler said. "I think all of us want him to go."

And the Red Sox all want Youkilis to go and join the other six Boston players on the AL roster.

He's got the numbers to do it, too. Through Sunday, Youkilis was hitting .299 with 17 homers, 54 RBIs and a .416 on-base percentage.

"All of you out there, you guys make sure that my boy Youk comes on this flight to the All-Star Game" said Red Sox slugger David Ortiz, who made the team as a reserve designated hitter. "I know a lot of people will keep that in mind and make sure Youk is an All-Star. He deserves to be in there."

Now in its ninth year, the 2010 All-Star Game Final Vote sponsored by Sprint gives baseball fans around the world the opportunity to select the final player on each All-Star team. Balloting began immediately following Sunday's Major League All-Star Selection Show and continues until 4 p.m. ET on Thursday. The winners will be announced on MLB.com shortly thereafter.

Mobile voting in the U.S. is exclusive to Sprint, Nextel and Boost subscribers. To receive the 2010 All-Star Game Final Vote sponsored by Sprint mobile ballot, text the word "VOTE" to 1122. To vote for a specific player, simply text message your choice to 1122. EXAMPLE: Text "A3" to vote for AL Player 3 or "N3" to vote for NL Player 3. Messaging and data rates may apply. Mobile voting in Canada is open to all carriers; fans should text their choices to 88555. Standard rates may apply.

The fun doesn't end there, however. Fans, having already decided the starters and this week the final player on each team, once again will have the opportunity to participate in the official voting for the Ted Williams Most Valuable Player presented by Chevy via the 2010 All-Star Game MVP Vote sponsored by Sprint on MLB.com during the All-Star Game.

The 81st Major League Baseball All-Star Game will be televised nationally by FOX Sports, in Canada by Rogers Sportsnet and Sportsnet HD and Le Reseau des Sports, 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.

Doug Miller 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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