Youk moves ahead of Swish; Votto leads

Youk moves ahead of Swish; Votto leads

Red Sox first baseman Kevin Youkilis caught and passed right fielder Nick Swisher of the rival Yankees for the American League lead, while Major League home run co-leader Joey Votto of the Reds maintained his National League edge at the halfway point of the 2010 All-Star Game Final Vote Sponsored by Sprint.

Youkilis grabbed the AL top spot from Swisher overnight and held it leading into the 48-hour mark on Tuesday -- making the race potentially the latest chapter in sports' most famous rivalry -- while Michael Young of the Rangers, Paul Konerko of the White Sox and Delmon Young of the Twins each were well north of one million votes and well-positioned to make a run at the top spot.

Votto continued to hold off challenges from third baseman Ryan Zimmerman of the Nationals, closer Billy Wagner of the Braves, left fielder Carlos Gonzalez of the Rockies and MLB saves leader Heath Bell of the Padres.

Fans cast 22 million votes in the first 48 hours of the four-day competition to decide the 34th and final roster spots for each league in the 81st All-Star Game on July 13 at Anaheim. The ninth annual All-Star Game Final Vote ballot commenced exclusively on MLB.com and the individual club sites at 1 p.m. ET on Sunday and will continue until balloting concludes at 4 p.m. ET on Thursday. No vote totals are released in the meantime and winners will be announced shortly thereafter exclusively on MLB.com.

So far there have been two club voting alliances, the most in any Final Vote campaign so far. The Rangers and Nationals have aligned for a "Third Base Ticket" and the Reds and Red Sox have formed a 1975 World Series alliance to grow their joint candidate support.

Each quintet of candidates was presented by the respective All-Star Game managers, Joe Girardi of the Yankees for the AL and Charlie Manuel of the Phillies for the NL. The remainder of the All-Star rosters were announced on Sunday.

Here is a closer look at the candidates, with stats entering the week:

American League

Paul Konerko, 1B, White Sox
Back in 2004, Konerko and Frank Thomas were in a dead heat for second behind Hideki Matsui of the Yankees in the AL Final Vote. The two White Sox players split their vote and Matsui was selected. Konerko has no competition on his own team this time, and instead he has his own campaign theme. The White Sox are hoping to turn the South Side of Chicago into "Pauliewood" -- a slogan making the Internet rounds.

No team has had more Final Vote participants than the White Sox, who have fielded a candidate in seven of the nine years. That includes two winners, Scott Podsednik in 2005 and A.J. Pierzynski in '06

Konerko has 20 homers and 57 RBIs for the White Sox -- gradually leading them back into contention. This voting period coincides with a four-game home series against the Angels, so it gives the White Sox a captive audience to push the vote -- as they have done already, with Mark Buehrle among those appealing over a microphone to fans at U.S. Cellular Field.

Nick Swisher, RF, Yankees
Swisher was the AL leader after the first 24 hours of balloting. Through 77 games he was batting .296 with 13 homers, 47 RBIs and 50 runs, 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 also has 1,218,593 followers on his Twitter account -- gaining 500 to 1,000 each day of this campaign -- and he wasted no time in using it to get out the vote for himself. After learning that Youkilis had passed him, Swisher tweeted the following verbatim:

"Seems like this final man vote has turned into a NY vs. Boston thing. Need all my NYers 2 vote! @jimmyfallon @iamdiddy"

Adding the two accounts (and a link to the ballot) at the end was an effort to get Jimmy Fallon and Sean Combs to pitch in.

"I see all of these guys going and I want to go, too," Swisher said, referring to the other six Yankees players already selected to this Midsummer Classic. "I think it would mean so much extra now because it's up to the fans. I think I've generated a pretty good rapport here with the fans of New York."

The Yankees are 1-for-5 in Final Vote candidates, with their most recent three coming up short. The only winner was Matsui in 2004, and even he fell short the following year, splitting the vote with teammate Derek Jeter.

Kevin Youkilis, 1B, Red Sox
Constituents of Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) received an email on Tuesday imploring them to Vote Youk, including a link to the online ballot. Kerry wrote before finding out that Youkilis moved into the lead:

"Youk deserves to be in the All-Star Game -- while the team has grinded it out in spite of injury after injury, he's been a rock. But now he needs to win a fan vote to make it to Anaheim next week.

"The stakes are also just a little personal: in the fan voting, currently Nick Swisher of the Yankees is in first place. Swisher's having a fine year, but Youk is better in just about every category, batting average, slugging, home runs, everything, and he plays Gold Glove defense to boot. Please don't let anyone say that Swisher beat Youkilis because Sox fans have gone a little soft after '04 and '07. Let's show we're still the most ravenous fans in baseball."

Red Sox Nation is a perfect 3-for-3 in past Final Votes, winning the first two with outfielder Johnny Damon in 2002 and catcher Jason Varitek in 2003, and then with reliever Hideki Okajima in 2007. If Youkilis maintains his lead, they would remain perfect and double the second-highest winner output.

Youkils scores more than anyone -- he leads the Majors with 66 runs to go along with his .299 average, 17 homers and 55 RBIs. Will he score again with the Final Vote?

"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."

Delmon Young, LF, Twins
This is a breakout season for Young, who has helped the Twins stay around the top of the AL Central 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 this month 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, 55 RBIs, a .298 average and -- most notably -- only 35 strikeouts.

"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
News flash: The Rangers and Nationals just announced a voting alliance -- the "Third Base Ticket" -- that they hope will benefit Young as well as Nationals third baseman Ryan Zimmerman. Texas was planning to show the promotional spot on its video board during Tuesday's home game.

When told that Swisher is using his Twitter account to campaign openly, Young said he would love to be back in the event but wants no part of that approach.

"If I was making a commercial, I wouldn't be in it. I'd hire someone to do it," Young said. "That's really not my style. I've been really fortunate that all the fans here in Texas have been so supportive of me. So we'll see how it all shakes out. I'd love to go, but I'm not going to do any campaigning or anything like that.

"I know my family keeps calling me telling me they're spending all their day on the computer developing carpal tunnel. I'm not going to be doing any campaigning or anything like that, but I would be honored to go. It's always fun at the All-Star Game."

Will Young be the third consecutive third baseman to win the AL Final Vote, following Brandon Inge last year and Evan Longoria the year before? There are many reasons to think he could, starting with a .306 average, 11 homers, 55 runs and 51 RBIs and a Major League-high 343 at-bats 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 the Ted Williams Most Valuable Player at the 2006 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 the epic 2008 battle at Yankee Stadium.

"Being in first place, we wouldn't be there if it weren't for Michael," Rangers president and Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan says of Young in this video.

National League

Heath Bell, RHP, Padres
The Padres front office is hoping to lead its fans by example. One example is the "Hear a bell - Vote for Bell" approach. Hourly bells will ring on the office intercom to remind Padres employees to stop and vote for their closer, who leads the Majors with 23 saves.

Bell has been a staple for a Padres club that is having one of its best seasons in franchise history, leading the NL West by four games entering Tuesday.

"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."

Bell led the NL with 42 saves last year, and he was the losing pitcher in the All-Star Game at St. Louis. Manuel brought him in to maintain a 3-3 tie in the eighth inning, but Bell gave up a triple to Curtis Granderson, then a go-ahead sacrifice fly by Adam Jones. Bell, who "threw my glove, kicked a door," now, of course, wants a chance for atonement.

Bell 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 lockdown!" Do the Padres have enough All-Star representatives to go along with their win total? That's up to the voters.

Carlos Gonzalez, CF, Rockies
According to MLB.com's Peter Gammons, many general managers are telling him they expect the outfielder they call "CarGo" to be one of the NL's 10 best players next season. The Rockies, meanwhile, think Gonzalez already has arrived at elite status and are hoping fans will consider him the most deserving of five Final Vote candidates right now.

Gonzalez said he appreciated the support Rockies fans showed at Sunday's game after finding out he had been chosen as one of the players on the NL ballot.

"It was packed," Gonzalez said. "Everybody was like, 'CarGo, you got my vote!' Everybody was screaming and we were winning."

Will it be a second consecutive case of a blossoming standout from Venezuela capturing people's imagination in this process -- the way it was for Giants third baseman and Final Vote runner-up Pablo Sandoval last year? We'll see. In his third season, Gonzalez has 14 homers, 52 RBIs, 12 steals and 49 runs -- a five-tool player seemingly on the brink of vast recognition.

This is the second try for a Rockies candidate. The first? You'd have to go back to the beginning in 2002, when Larry Walker came up third.

Joey Votto, 1B, Reds
Just before the second update was released, the Reds and Red Sox each issued a press release declaring their official club alliance. The theme is the 1975 World Series, which included that fabled Game 6 featuring Carlton Fisk's famous home run for Boston. The Reds are urging their fans to not only vote for Votto but also for Youkilis -- and vice versa for the Red Sox.

Last year, a voting alliance by the Tigers and Phillies proved successful. "BranTorino" helped in the victory by Brandon Inge of Detroit and Shane Victorino of Philadelphia.

Votto had a monster day on Monday during the Final Vote process, doing his talking on the field. He homered twice, doubled and walked for the first-place Reds. It brought his home run total up to 21, matching Jose Bautista of the Blue Jays for the MLB lead. There is a huge "snub" reaction happening around the Internet, and so far he appears to be on his way to Anaheim. Will he get there?

"Hopefully we can get some T-shirts and rally behind Joey, get the fans out there," said Reds third baseman Scott Rolen, who was selected as an All-Star. "He has certainly earned it at his position. He is probably the most valuable player on this team right now."

Billy Wagner, LHP, Braves
"I think I'd be thrilled," Wagner said of making the Midsummer Classic. "To be put in the All-Star Game is always a special moment in any player's life. Knowing that it would be my last All-Star opportunity, it would be very special. I hope for a good outcome, but there are a lot of quality players out there, and whoever gets in, it will be special for them."

The question is, will the third time be a charm for him, or will he become the Susan Lucci of the Final Vote? Atlanta's closer is 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 this Final Vote is right now, this season, and the resurgent Braves are two games ahead of the Mets in the NL East during this 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. He's also 5-0.

Ryan Zimmerman, 3B, Nationals
The news of the Zimmerman-Young "Third Base Ticket" should come as good news to Nationals fans, because the alliance factor worked last year for Inge and Victorino. Now it is up to their fans to spread that message.

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 but came up short.

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, who has 14 homers and 44 RBIs, is as good as it gets at the hot corner defensively, and he was practically a one-man wrecking crew on the day of the Final Vote introductions. He drove in four of the team's five runs in a loss to the Mets, three of them with his 14th homer.

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.

As originally introduced during this year's online balloting for the elected starters, fans can campaign for their favorite player on the Final Vote ballot through the MLB.com All-Star Game Campaign Manager Headquarters, tallying points by getting their friends, family and co-workers to vote through social networking, and competing to be recognized as an "official" Final Vote Campaign Manager for any player they helped support.

Mobile voting is available exclusively on Sprint, Nextel and Boost-capable mobile phones, and fans can send 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.

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 Shane Victorino and Inge last year, 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.