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Fans lift Utley, Griffey into leading roles

Fans lift Utley, Griffey

Philadelphia's Chase Utley took over the lead at second base and Cincinnati center fielder Ken Griffey Jr. moved past Jim Edmonds of St. Louis for the third starting outfield spot in the latest balloting totals for the 77th All-Star Game released on Monday by Major League Baseball.

The other leaders for the eight NL starting spots in next month's All-Star Game remained the same, with the Cardinals having three players leading at their respective positions: first baseman Albert Pujols, shortstop David Eckstein and third baseman Scott Rolen. Paul Lo Duca of the New York Mets leads at catcher, while teammate Carlos Beltran is second in the outfield balloting, trailing only Andruw Jones of Atlanta. Beltran leads Griffey by approximately 20,000 votes.

Griffey, bidding for a 13th All-Star appearance, has been elected to more Midsummer Classic appearances than any player except Hall of Famers Cal Ripken Jr. (17) and Rod Carew (15). Griffey is hitting .274 with eight homers and 30 RBIs for the surprising Reds. He was one of the Player Ballot winners in 2004 but did not make the team last season. Griffey leads Edmonds by roughly 33,000 votes.

Another outfielder making a move is Pittsburgh's Jason Bay, who more than doubled his vote total to leapfrog over nine other outfielders into ninth place in the balloting.

Utley's hot bat is fueling his campaign for a first All-Star appearance. After hitting .273 in April, the second sacker hit .348 in May and is hitting .444 in June (through Sunday's game). His .326 average for the season ranks 14th among all Major Leaguers and is the second-highest average of any second baseman, trailing only Jose Vidro of Washington (.344).

The 27-year-old pulled down approximately 150,000 votes last week to move past Houston's Craig Biggio into the top spot. Biggio led Utley by roughly 17,000 votes last week. This time, Utley holds a similar margin over the Astros second baseman.

Pujols, who went on the disabled list on Sunday with a strained right oblique, polled more than a quarter of a million votes for the week to become the first player on this year's ballot to top one million votes. In the process, the Cardinals slugger increased his margin over runner-up Carlos Delgado of the Mets to more than 700,000 votes. Houston's Lance Berkman continues to hold third place, but he is now closely trailed by Nomar Garciaparra of the Dodgers and Ryan Howard of the Phillies.

The shortstop race remains tight, as Eckstein leads Edgar Renteria of the Braves by approximately 55,000 votes. Jose Reyes of the Mets and Jimmy Rollins of the Phillies are also fewer than 75,000 votes behind Eckstein.

The battle at third base is also tight, as Rolen's lead over David Wright of the Mets shrunk from approximately 48,000 votes to 37,000. Houston's Morgan Ensberg and Atlanta's Chipper Jones remained third and fourth, respectively, while Florida's Miguel Cabrera moved into the top five and trails Jones by some 42,000 votes.

Lo Duca widened his lead over 12-time All-Star Mike Piazza at catcher. Piazza's lead over Yadier Molina of the Cardinals was trimmed to fewer than 24,000 votes. Brad Ausmus of the Astros and Michael Barrett of the Cubs held their spots in the top five.

Fans can cast votes up to 25 times with the Monster.com 2006 All-Star Online Ballot at MLB.com and on all 30 club sites. Online balloting ends at 11:59 p.m. ET on June 29.

Rosters for the 77th All-Star Game, to be played on July 11 at PNC Park in Pittsburgh, will be released at 7 p.m. ET on Sunday, July 2. The announcement will reveal the 16 elected starters, as determined by fan balloting, and 45 pitchers and reserves, as determined by the player ballot, the two All-Star team managers -- Ozzie Guillen of the World Series champion Chicago White Sox and Phil Garner of the NL champion Houston Astros -- and Major League Baseball.

Fans will once again have the opportunity to select the final position player for each league's 32-man roster on MLB.com. The Final Vote will provide fans the opportunity to cast their votes from a list of five players from each league over a three-day period. Fans added Roy Oswalt (NL) and Scott Podsednik (AL) to the rosters with the Final Vote last summer.

For the fourth consecutive year, the league that wins the All-Star Game will receive home-field advantage during the World Series. The AL has won back-to-back-to-back Midsummer Classics since that provision was added prior to the 2003 World Series, and eight straight overall.

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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