Belt, Saunders take Final Vote to All-Star Game

Belt, Saunders take Final Vote to All-Star Game

SAN DIEGO -- Giants first baseman Brandon Belt and Blue Jays left fielder Michael Saunders will be first-time All-Stars via the 2016 Esurance MLB All-Star Game Final Vote, after 72 hours of breathtaking fan balloting and lead changes to decide the last roster spots for the 87th All-Star Game presented by MasterCard on Tuesday night at Petco Park in San Diego.

Belt overtook Pirates left fielder Starling Marte on Friday morning and held on in the National League with 10.4 million votes after one of the closest races since the Final Vote began in 2002. Finishing behind them were Rockies shortstop Trevor Story, D-backs third baseman Jake Lamb and Brewers left fielder Ryan Braun.

Saunders, a British Columbia native, was a nearly unanimous choice of all voters in Canada, riding #VoteCaptainCanada all the way to the Midsummer Classic with 17.7 million votes. He was followed in the American League standings by Astros right fielder George Springer, Tigers second baseman Ian Kinsler, Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia and Rays third baseman Evan Longoria.

The outcome proved again that past All-Star experience means little in the Final Vote, which is based so heavily on real-time campaigning on and off the field. The only other year in which there were four candidates with at least three past All-Star selections was 2003. Braun had been chosen six times, Kinsler and Pedroia four each and Longoria three -- including via the 2008 Final Vote as a rookie. The Final Vote is all about now.

It extends the streak of no middle infielder ever winning; Story, Kinsler and Pedroia were the latest three to be unsuccessful. A corner infielder has won every year since 2008, and a first baseman has won four of the past seven years in the NL.

Belt becomes the Giants' first winner after four previous tries (Benito Santiago in 2003, Aaron Rowand in '08, Pablo Sandoval in '09 and Hunter Pence in '13). Belt is the fourth Giants player selected for Tuesday's game, along with Madison Bumgarner (replaced on the roster by Bartolo Colon due to a scheduled start on Sunday), Johnny Cueto and Buster Posey.

Interactive All-Star Game rosters

Belt is batting .331 (46-for-139) with 22 runs, 19 doubles, six homers and 24 RBIs in his past 36 games. His 27 doubles lead the NL and are the fifth-most by a San Francisco Giant prior to the All-Star break. Belt helped himself with an RBI triple and 2-for-4 performance in Wednesday's Giants 5-1 victory over Colorado, and that was his last on-field statement as the Giants were off on Thursday.

Belt tried to keep the focus mainly on his club, which is leading the Majors with a 54-33 record in its pursuit of extending their even-numbered-year run of World Series titles.

"I feel like I've done pretty much all I can do this first half," he said. "I think I'm more focused on finishing the season off well, trying to help us get in the playoffs and win the World Series. With the guys that we have out of our lineup and for the younger guys to step in and play important roles and contribute, it really has been awesome to watch."

The Giants formed an alliance with the Red Sox, prompting many of the same people who voted for Pedroia, a Northern California native, to vote for Belt as well. So San Francisco may have been able to effectively tap into Red Sox Nation for a piece of the prize.

Saunders' solo home run

Saunders also showed that it always helps to be on a tear during the campaigning. He is 12 for his last 24, including a 2-for-3 performance with three runs scored as the Blue Jays stretched their winning streak to six with a 5-4 win over Detroit on Thursday. His OPS of .932 is second in the AL only to Mike Trout's .997.

"It's very exciting," Saunders said. "This is a proud moment for me and my family. I'm sure there is going to be a lot of people down in San Diego from the West Coast of Canada since it's not too far of a flight. Like I said all along, just to have my name mentioned alongside the guys who were in the Final Vote as well as the All Stars. That in itself I felt like was awesome."

The Blue Jays are now batting .500 in the Final Vote after winning for the second time in the past four years -- reliever Steve Delabar won in 2013.

Thank you fans!!

Saunders had said at the outset of voting, "I know the Blue Jays will be behind me and hopefully I'll get the support of the rest of Canada." Even he could not have imagined just how much support was headed his way. No heat map in Canada was needed as it was nearly unanimous from coast to coast. The slogan came together quickly, and the "VoteCaptainCanada" hashtag campaign was an overwhelming winner in that country.

"We were just trying to find something, obviously because the Blue Jays, they're Toronto's team, but they're Canada's team, so we wanted something that would generate interest for all of Canada to get behind Saunders, because he is one of our own," said Michelle Seniuk, the Blue Jays' manager of promotions and fan activation.

The interactive map allowed people to track the county-by-county balloting to the very end -- and for the first time in this election year, veteran political commentator Jeff Greenfeld even helped analyze the polling at the end on MLB Network. Belt dominated the West, drawing scattered support in his home state of Texas. Saunders added a strong Northwest showing to his Canada support, given his roots just north of Seattle and having been drafted by the Mariners.

"Seems like a lot of bloc voting going on in the north, which makes sense," Greenfeld said.

Two legs of the annual All-Star fan balloting process are complete, with your selection of the starters and now the final two roster spots. The third opportunity comes during the All-Star Game itself on Tuesday night. Watch the game on FOX, and starting with the sixth inning, come to MLB.com to submit your choice to help determine the Ted Williams Most Valuable Player Award presented by Chevrolet via the 2016 MLB All-Star Game MVP Vote.

The 87th All-Star Game will be televised nationally by FOX, in Canada by Rogers Sportsnet and RDS, and worldwide by partners in more than 160 countries via MLB International's independent feed. ESPN Radio and ESPN Radio Deportes will provide national radio coverage of the All-Star Game. MLB.com, MLB Network and SiriusXM will also provide comprehensive All-Star Week coverage. For more information, please visit allstargame.com.

Mark Newman is enterprise editor of MLB.com. Read and join other baseball fans on his MLB.com community blog This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.