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All-Star voting races go down to wire

All-Star voting races go down to wire

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Everyone has been looking forward to the return of Major League Baseball's All-Star Game to the city of Pittsburgh, which has a grand tradition of hosting the event dating back to Forbes Field and Three Rivers Stadium. Now it is time at last to find out which players will be on the field July 11 at dazzling PNC Park.

Rosters for the American and National Leagues will be revealed live at 7 p.m. ET Sunday on ESPN's Major League Baseball All-Star Game Selection Show presented by Chevrolet. The program will feature the announcement of the 16 elected starters, as determined by fans, and 46 pitchers and reserves, as determined by the Player Ballot, the two All-Star Team managers -- Ozzie Guillen of the White Sox (AL) and Phil Garner of the Astros (NL) -- and Major League Baseball.

The All-Star balloting process, the largest such campaign in sports, determined the starters for the July 11 game at PNC Park in Pittsburgh. It began in April and accumulated votes from MLB.com and the 30 MLB club sites, Major League and Minor League ballparks, 3,100 Wal-Mart stores, international outposts, and -- for the first time -- even at ballot boxes that were placed in nine Army/Air Force commissaries and one naval base in Iraq and Afghanistan. It was a massive process. Voting was again only online in the final week, and ended on Thursday night with the conclusion of the Monster All-Star Online Ballot on MLB.com.

Fans cast more than 1.5 million ballots in the final 24 hours, bringing the total ballots cast online to more than 11 million, with more than 141 million online votes. Many races for starting spots were simply too close to call in the final stretch, due to that online volume of fan participation. Players whose names are not called on the Selection Show still could have a chance, because the Monster 2006 All-Star Final Vote will begin Sunday night with your annual chance to choose the 32nd man for each league.

"MLB.com congratulates the informed and determined fans who cast more than 1.5 million ballots in the last 24 hours online, resulting in two lead changes in the online portion of the overall balloting program," said Dinn Mann, executive vice president-content for MLB Advanced Media. "With in-stadium ballots still being tallied, it is not known how the online lead changes will affect the overall results, but we at MLB.com will be watching with baseball fans around the world as both the starting lineups, selected by fans, and reserves for the American and National League All-Star teams will be announced exclusively this Sunday night on ESPN."

It was a long run of voting that started in April, and the final weekly voting updates were released this past week. Will there be a last-week development like the one in 2003, when Albert Pujols went from fourth place among NL outfielders all the way to top overall vote-getter in that league? Will there be a late change like the one in 2001, when Cal Ripken Jr. took over AL third base from leader David Bell on his way to that game's MVP honor? Sunday is the time to find out.

One of the most interesting races has been AL catcher. Jason Varitek of the Red Sox (1,090,102) and Ivan Rodriguez of the Tigers (1,047,987) were neck-and-neck in the final update, the tightest race of any 1-2 leaders on the ballot. But many eyes were on Minnesota's Joe Mauer, who moved up to third with 769,284 and was batting .392 on that last day of voting. Just behind Mauer was Jorge Posada of the Yankees, at 768,280.

Robinson Cano of the Yankees, bidding for his first All-Star starting assignment in only his second Major League season, entered the final week on top of the AL second base leaderboard with 1,045,221 votes. That was 78,569 more than Mark Loretta of the Red Sox, while Tadahito Iguchi of the White Sox loomed within reach with a vote total of 849,149.

In the AL outfield, nine-time All-Star Manny Ramirez of Boston had taken over the status of his league's top vote-getter with 1,936,373 votes, slightly ahead of the 1,932,366 cast for Vladimir Guerrero of the Angels. Ichiro Suzuki of the Mariners rounded out the starting outfield with 1,393,462. Now we will see whether the Yankees' Johnny Damon can jump back into the top three status that he held in the early going during voting; he needed to make up about 170,000 votes to catch Ichiro. More than 400,000 votes behind Ichiro was Toronto's Vernon Wells, in fifth amid a sensational season north of the border.

Big leaders entering the final week for the AL included David Ortiz of the Red Sox at first base (nearly 650,000 votes ahead of Jason Giambi of the Yankees), Derek Jeter of the Yankees at shortstop (more than 450,000 votes ahead of Miguel Tejada of the Orioles), and Alex Rodriguez of the Yankees at third base (less than 900,000 votes ahead of Mike Lowell of the Red Sox. Yes, that's a lot of Yankees and Red Sox this year high on the AL charts, and that just means there could be a lot more grumbling around the Majors if there are no late-chargers to supplant them.

The NL outfield was very much TBA. Jason Bay of the Pirates jumped to No. 1 in the final updates and was on course to start in front of his home fans. Carlos Beltran of the Mets and Alfonso Soriano of the Nationals filled out the remainder of the starting outfield pending the final voting surge. Ken Griffey Jr., the Reds' veteran of many All-Star outings, needed to make up more than 117,939 million votes to catch Soriano. Andruw Jones of the Braves was in fifth, 116,777 behind Griffey.

Shortstop Jose Reyes of the Mets surged past David Eckstein of the Cardinals (last year's starter) to take over the top spot midway through the voting-update process, and he entered the final week still on top. But one of the more intriguing movements in the voting the past month was the sight of Pittsburgh's Jack Wilson blowing past Eckstein and into second place, just 81,988 votes away from Reyes. Edgar Renteria of the Braves and Jimmy Rollins of the Phillies were fourth and fifth, respectively, and all were within striking distance in what emerged as a drama race.

Considering the recent play of the Mets and Pirates, as well as Reyes' recent back-to-back NL Player of the Week awards, it probably would classify as the shocker of the Selection Show if Wilson (.266, 7 HR, 23 RBIs), a past All-Star in his own right, wins this spot amid a monster first half for Reyes and the Mets. Anything's possible, and recent history has shown that fans in the All-Star host city certainly make a strong push at the ballot box. It is time to see what the mass public had to say about it during the last week of voting at MLB.com.

While Pujols probably had the NL first base job pretty well locked up, across the corner there was a big question about whether his Cardinal and past All-Star teammate, Scott Rolen, could jump past leader David Wright. The Mets' star was more than 300,000 votes ahead entering the final week.

There was much less margin at second base, where Chase Utley of the Phillies was leading Houston's Craig Biggio by 139,024 votes. Voters could see Jose Castillo of the Pirates, only 184,153 behind Utley, out of the corner of their eyes in third place.

Many fans have grown up believing that Mike Piazza owns the NL catcher position, but his replacement with the Mets held a huge lead. Paul Lo Duca had 1,281,767 votes, with Piazza, now a Padre, second with 880,948 -- a margin of 400,819. It's hard to imagine an NL All-Star team without Piazza starting behind the plate, but it seemed a foregone conclusion this time. Piazza was the NL's last All-Star MVP, 10 years ago.

The Major League Baseball All-Star Game Selection Show also will reveal which player captured the most overall votes. Pujols was in command entering the final week despite the injury that cost him some playing time. He had 2,206,409 votes, and we'll see whether he might even break the record for most votes. Boston's Ramirez was 270,036 votes behind in the bid for that distinction

For the fifth year, immediately following the conclusion of the Major League Baseball All-Star Selection Show, fans will once again select the final player for each league's 32-man roster via an online vote exclusively at MLB.com.

The Monster 2006 All-Star Final Vote will provide fans the opportunity to cast their votes from two lists of five players from each league over a four-day period. Guillen and Garner each will designate five players who will be the candidates for the Final Vote. Balloting will continue until 6 p.m. ET on Thursday, and the winners will be announced on ESPN and MLB.com shortly thereafter.

Once again, fans also will be able to cast their Final Vote from their mobile phones, and it is especially recommended this year with the extended Fourth of July weekend and so many people away from their computers. Fans can simply text the word "VOTE" to 36197 in the U.S. or to 28776 in Canada and be instantly registered to receive Final Vote ballots. Cost is reduced this year to 30 cents per text entry.

First let's find out who is going to the big show. We know the jerseys will be black for the AL and gold for the NL. We know the All-Star Game will have a dazzling new site. Now it is time to find out who plays.

"It's done, and thank God it's done," Guillen said with a smile after doing his part to help fill the AL roster. "The weird thing about it is sometimes you have to pick people over others, with the way the roster works. It's not easy because they put you in situations you don't want to be."

The 77th All-Star Game will be televised nationally by FOX Sports, in Canada by Rogers Sportsnet and Sportsnet HD and televised 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, while MLB.com will provide extensive online coverage and MLB.com Radio will provide exclusive play-by-play coverage of the game on the Internet. XM Satellite Radio will provide satellite radio play-by-play coverage of the XM Satellite Radio All-Star Futures Game.

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

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