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Final Vote races tighten during final day

Final Vote races tighten

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With one day to go in the 2009 All-Star Game Sprint Final Vote, Tigers third baseman Brandon Inge has taken the American League lead and Pablo Sandoval stayed just two percentage points ahead of Shane Victorino in the National League as fans continue to vote in record numbers to complete rosters for the 80th All-Star Game on July 14 in St. Louis.

This one is close, maybe closer than any of Major League Baseball's previous seven Final Vote events. The candidates are packed together, and campaigning has reached such new heights of zeal and imagination that anything is possible in the homestretch.

Inge, leading all AL third basemen with 19 homers for the first-place Tigers, overtook Rangers second baseman Ian Kinsler, who was right on his heels in this seesaw race. Inge's lead is only nine percentage points. Still closely behind Kinsler in succession are Angels third baseman Chone Figgins, Rays first baseman Carlos Pena and Blue Jays DH Adam Lind, all of whom have registered at least two million votes since 2 p.m. ET on Sunday.

How close is the NL voting? This paragraph initially had Victorino leading after the stunning previous 24 hours of campaigning by him and on his behalf, and then while the story was being completed, Sandoval had another surge and moved barely into the lead. It marked the fifth NL lead change already after three days of the four-day Final Vote.

Surging immediately behind Victorino is D-backs third baseman Mark Reynolds, and many people are waiting to see what kind of impact it might have that Arizona Sen. John McCain just endorsed him. That included McCain tweeting an endorsement to nearly 1 million followers on Twitter, another way the campaign bar has been raised in 2009. Dodgers center fielder Matt Kemp is close behind Reynolds and followed by Nationals shortstop Cristian Guzman.

Balloting remains ahead of last year's record pace as 34.3 million votes have been cast exclusively on MLB.com and the individual club sites. After a final early morning update on Thursday, winners will be announced shortly after the conclusion of balloting at 4 p.m. ET. There is no limit to the ballots you can cast, and you can follow @MLB on Twitter to see constantly retweeted campaign tweets and up-to-the-minute examples of this voting craze.

Mobile voting is available exclusively on Sprint capable mobile phones and fans can send the word "Vote" to 1122 to receive the 2009 All-Star Game Sprint Final Vote ballot. Standard text rates apply. In Canada, fans should text the word "Vote" to 88555.

As one way to measure the reach of this year's Final Vote, consider what McCain, the 2008 Republican presidential nominee, just did. He voiced his backing for Reynolds through an interview during the D-backs game Tuesday, and then tweeted an endorsement to 964,953 followers on his Twitter page. It read:

Vote for Mark Reynolds for All-Star! He is a great athlete and an outstanding role model. Go D-backs, 3 in a row!

Speaking of Reynolds, who is tied for second in the Majors with 24 homers, McCain told Fox Sports Arizona: "He's a great athlete."

Creative grassroots campaigning has been a fixture in the Final Vote ever since Brewers outfielder Geoff Jenkins was selected by fans in 2003, the second year of this event. It has taken on a life of its own. Witness the new Vote for Pablo dance video making the rounds on YouTube, or the friendly wager between Hawaii and Pennsylvania governors over which state can cast more votes for Victorino, the Phillies' "Flyin' Hawaiian."

The latest voting alliance has been formed by the Tigers and Phillies organizations, two of baseball's most storied franchises. They atre encouraging businesses located throughout Michigan and Pennsylvania to allow their employees time today and Thursday to vote for Inge and Victorino.

Each nominee has his player behind him, and here's another reason why it is easy to see Inge staying at the top of the race until the finish: Tigers fans who vote for him at least 100 times are now eligible to win a "Deliver the Game Ball to the Mound" fantasy package.

The once-in-a-lifetime opportunity allows a fan to deliver the game ball to the pitcher's mound prior to the first pitch and two infield box seats and parking for the Tigers game on Aug. 4. Additionally, the winner will receive a Tigers batting practice jersey, dinner for two in the Champions Club, a picture taken at the pitcher's mound during game ball delivery and a scoreboard announcement of the winner's name as they deliver the game ball.

Fans who vote for Kinsler at texasrangers.com will be entered into a sweepstakes with the prizes being a suite for 20 at the Rangers game against the Red Sox on July 20 or an All-Star Autograph package that includes autographed bats from Josh Hamilton, Michael Young and Kinsler.

Kinsler had 53 RBIs through Tuesday to go along with his 20 home runs, and that means he is on pace to join Darin Erstad as the only player in Major League history to drive in 100 runs as a leadoff hitter. Erstad finished with 100 for the Angels in 2000. Four other players have driven in 90 or more runs. Alfonso Soriano had 99 for the Yankees in 2002, Nomar Garciaparra had 98 for the Red Sox in 1997, Johnny Damon had 91 for the Red Sox in 2004 and Grady Sizemore had 90 for the Indians last season.

"I have a lot of respect for Darin Erstad," Kinsler said. "He's a guy who carries a lot of respect around the league. He has a football mentality. He plays hard every game and every pitch. To be the second guy with him would be pretty special."

To get out the vote for Sandoval, the Giants intensified their multicultural efforts by stepping up their "Vote for Pablo" campaign for Spanish-speaking fans. The club's push to heighten Sandoval's profile in his native Venezuela already had taken root. "We've gotten a ton of inquiries from the Venezuelan media today," said Staci Slaughter, the Giants' senior vice president of communications.

The Giants also continued their "2009 Vote Pablo All-Star Game Final Vote Sweepstakes." The grand prize includes a McCovey Cove-full of giveaways, including use of a ballpark suite for the winner and 15 guests during a Giants home game; a 30-minute field visit that features a meet-and-greet with one or more of the club's All-Stars; and an All-Star jersey signed by one or more of the team's All-Stars. A first-prize winner will receive the last two prizes, along with two premium tickets to a regular-season home game.

"He's definitely making his case, even though he shouldn't have to at this point," Giants closer Brian Wilson said. "I think he should be on that team and he should start. Unfortunately, I couldn't vote a million times and get him on there. Hopefully the world will see what he has been doing and start paying attention to what he's achieving and how much of an asset he is to a ballclub."

D-backs catcher Luke Carlin was asking Reynolds for instructions on how to vote Tuesday. By Wednesday morning, he was a pro. Sitting in front of his locker in the quiet early morning hours, Carlin was voting time and time again for Reynolds.

"I've got it down now," Carlin said while showing a visitor how he was able to continue to vote without having to move the computer mouse. When asked how many times he voted, Carlin said: "I don't know. A lot. He deserves to go."

These nominees were presented to fans by the All-Star managers, Charlie Manuel of the Phillies and Joe Maddon of the Rays. There is little doubt that one or two players are going to miss out by the narrowest of margins and thus be left off the rosters completely. Alas, there still will be a glimmer of hope in that event, because typically a handful of All-Star selections become available due to injury and it's not out of the question that a Final Vote runnerup could still be added. Ranking high in the Final Vote standings would not hurt that person's chances.

The All-Star Sprint Game Final Vote program has seen nearly 140 million votes cast since its inception in 2002, including last year's record-setting total when fans chose Evan Longoria of the Rays and Corey Hart of the Brewers. Previous winners of the All-Star Game Sprint Final Vote are: Hideki Okajima (AL, 2007); Chris Young (NL, 2007); A.J. Pierzynski (AL, 2006); Nomar Garciaparra (NL, 2006); Scott Podsednik (AL, 2005); Roy 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 80th Major League Baseball 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.

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

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