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Young, Okajima retain slim leads

Young, Okajima retain slim leads

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With only hours remaining and a record 18.7 million votes cast thus far in the online balloting for the sixth annual Monster 2007 All-Star Final Vote on MLB.com, the outcome of the races for the final spot on each league's All-Star roster were not likely to be decided until today's balloting deadline of 6 p.m. ET.

Vote as many times as you'd like in this unprecedented 10-pitcher free-for-all, because this is the last chance to decide who else is going to the 78th All-Star Game on July 10 at AT&T Park in San Francisco.

Hideki Okajima of the Red Sox continues to hold on to his narrow lead over Detroit's Jeremy Bonderman and the three other pitchers vying for the final American League roster spot -- Pat Neshek of the Twins, Kelvim Escobar of the Angels and Roy Halladay of the Blue Jays.

On the National League ballot, San Diego's Chris Young leads all vote-getters, but is followed closely by Carlos Zambrano of the Cubs, Roy Oswalt of the Astros, Brandon Webb of the Diamondbacks and Tom Gorzelanny of the Pirates.

The sixth annual Monster All-Star Final Vote ballot commenced exclusively on MLB.com at approximately 7 p.m. ET on Sunday, with the nominees presented by each league's manager -- Tony La Russa in the NL and Jim Leyland in the AL. The latest update was through 4 p.m. ET on Wednesday.

In addition to MLB.com, fans also are casting many votes via their mobile phones by texting the word "Vote" to 36197 in the U.S. or to 88555 in Canada. In either case, that will prompt a ballot to be sent to your mobile phone and you then can text your pick.

Young has led the NL in each day's update, and he only helped himself by throwing seven scoreless innings in San Diego's 1-0 victory over the Marlins on Wednesday night. He struck out nine and walked none. He already had possessed the best home ERA (0.94) and opponents' batting average (.197) in the Majors, and although he left with a no-decision, his overall ERA dropped to an even 2.00. Even Zambrano has said repeatedly this week that it's hard to imagine Young not being in the All-Star Game.

During Young's outing, the computers in the main concourse at PETCO Park continued to be occupied by fans voting online at padres.com. And throughout the game, video clips of Padres starting pitcher Jake Peavy and Hoffman -- both All-Stars already -- continued to play in an effort to get fans to text in votes for Young from PETCO Park.

"That almost means more than going itself," Young said. "You know the guys, the city, the organization, to be so supportive and so outgoing, that means more than even getting to go to the game."

Okajima took over the AL lead from Bonderman in Tuesday's daily update and is bidding to join teammates David Ortiz, Manny Ramirez, Jonathan Papelbon, Josh Beckett and Mike Lowell on the AL roster in San Francisco. Okajima not only has the strength of a very global Red Sox Nation fan base, but also a massive high-tech voting bloc in his native Japan.

"The two most passionate baseball nations in the universe, someone said," Red Sox president and CEO Larry Lucchino said. "Japan and Red Sox."

And oh, by the way, Okajima has been pretty dominating in the Sox bullpen this half.

The Red Sox, during the last two games, have had a sign in Japanese lettering right behind home plate that says, "Vote for Okajima." In English, it says, "MLB.com." Lucchino said "there are advertising efforts on all fronts."

Red Sox right-hander Daisuke Matsuzaka -- who won his 10th game on Tuesday night but is not among the team's All-Stars or remaining candidates -- said, "I voted for him myself and I'm sure that all my friends and family that are watching us from Japan are voting to make sure that he gets in the All-Star Game."

All-Star Game Coverage

Additionally, the Red Sox and the Chiba Lotte Marines officially entered into a strategic alliance on Wednesday. Craig Shipley, who serves as vice president/international scouting for the Red Sox, stumped for Okajima during the press conference in Japan to announce the alliance.

"I had a sign during the press conference. I had Shun [Kazazu from the Chiba Lotte Marines] make me a sign and I held it up, and it said in Japanese, 'Vote for Okajima-san at Redsox.com,'" Shipley said. "Hopefully we got the whole nation of Japan and out of Japan voting for Hideki. We have two nations behind it -- Red Sox Nation and the nation of Japan."

Meanwhile, campaigning continued strong on all 10 fronts, whether the candidate was at home or on the road. Mass e-mails continued to be the order of the day, holiday or not, and it was typical to have computers set up for fans to vote if the candidate's team was at home. And once again, those unique individual campaigns were mounted.

Wednesday not only was Independence Day in the U.S., but it also was "Vote for Brandon Webb Day" in his native town of Ashland, Ky. As reported Tuesday, the mayor there was urging every citizen to vote for their native son and reigning NL Cy Young Award winner. That populace included about 300,000 people in a metro region.

It has been a whirlwind of a week for Gorzelanny, who appeared on ESPN's "Baseball Tonight" on Monday, ESPN Radio's "Mike and Mike in the Morning" on Wednesday and on one of Chicago's sports talk radio stations later Wednesday afternoon to try to rally up support to earn his first All-Star invitation.

"I'm going to get on there and get back to the home crowd and remind everyone that I am from there," said Gorzelanny, who is from Evergreen Park, Ill. "[I'll tell them ] that I'm a hometown boy and I need some help."

The Pirates organization has done its part as well to try to encourage fans to cast votes for their left-hander. On Tuesday, the club put laptop computers out in the stadium for fans to stop by and vote, and on Wednesday, fans were given "Vote for Gorzo" signs to take into the stadium. Pirates reliever Masumi Kuwata even sent a televised message to his Japanese fans urging them to vote for his teammate.

How many people did Neshek continue to reach as the only known high-powered blogger amidst the 10 candidates? Whatever happens in the end, his campaign no doubt has set a precedent that is likely to be followed in future Final Votes. Those fun YouTube videos continued to surface, and he continued to show them on his official MLBlog and on PatNeshek.com. Just picture a Major League reliever coming back from a night game at Yankee Stadium and posting content to spread the word to his growing fan base around the Internet.

Neshek, who struck out two Yankees in a scoreless inning on Wednesday, wrote after the game that he was planning to pull an all-nighter to vote and urged Twins fans to do the same.

The Monster All-Star Final Vote program has seen nearly 60 million votes cast since its inception in 2002, including a record 18.6 million last year when fans chose A.J. Pierzynski of the White Sox and Nomar Garciaparra of the Dodgers. Previous winners of the Monster All-Star Final Vote include: Scott Podsednik (AL, 2005); Oswalt (NL, 2005); Hideki Matsui (AL, 2004); Bobby Abreu (NL, 2004); Jason Varitek (AL, 2003); Geoff Jenkins (NL, 2003); Johnny Damon (AL, 2002); and Andruw Jones (NL, 2002).

The 78th Major League Baseball All-Star Game, which will determine home-field advantage in the 2007 World Series, 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 of all festivities surrounding the All-Star Game. XM will provide satellite radio play-by-play coverage of the XM All-Star Futures Game as well as the State Farm Home Run Derby and Midsummer Classic.

Mark Newman is enterprise editor for MLB.com. Reporters Ian Browne,, Jenifer Langosch and associate reporter Elizabeth Botello contributed to this story. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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