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'Bran-Torino' takes a ride to All-Star Game

'Bran-Torino' takes a ride to ASG

"Bran-Torino" is now a joy ride.

Tigers third baseman Brandon Inge and Phillies center fielder Shane Victorino are your choices in the dramatic 2009 All-Star Game Sprint Final Vote, comeback survivors of the wildest overall balloting in the history of a four-day event that decided the 33rd and final roster spots for the 80th All-Star Game on July 14 at Busch Stadium.

Fans smashed Final Vote records by casting 68.6 million votes at MLB.com and ultimately they decided on the two first-time All-Stars whose respective clubs forged a voting alliance after seeing Inge and Victorino in second place on the second day. The Tigers and Phillies called it "Bran-Torino" and that catchphrase would become a campaign sensation.

Inge is an American League All-Star for the first time after receiving 11.8 million votes, the most by an AL winner, and holding off Rangers second baseman Ian Kinsler in a battle that was seesaw for the first 48 hours and then close for the final 48. They were followed in order by Angels third baseman Chone Figgins, Rays first baseman Carlos Pena and Blue Jays designated hitter Adam Lind, all of whom drew impressive fan support but not enough.

"Excited would be the smallest statement I could make about it," Inge said on an off-day Thursday evening from his previously scheduled charity function at Comerica Park, benefiting Mott Children's Hospital in Ann Arbor and other local charity.

"I'm so happy about it. It's been a dream of mine since I was a little kid. And to be able to be voted in by the fans around here and all over, I think it's been a blessing. And on a good night, too, when we're having a function that's benefiting kids."

Inge found out the good news late Thursday afternoon while getting ready for the charity event. The attention had so overwhelmed him over the past few days, he was looking forward to getting to the end and knowing one way or the other. Once he found out he won, his response was emotional.

"It was incredible," he said. "It's a dream come true. I was fighting back some tears, man. I was so excited."

Victorino racked up a Final Vote record of 15.6 million votes and managed to overcome and then outlast a powerhouse campaign for Giants third baseman Pablo Sandoval, the "Kung Fu Panda" from Venezuela who all baseball fans now know if they didn't already. D-backs third baseman Mark Reynolds, who had that home state endorsement from 2008 Republican presidential candidate John McCain, finished a strong third. They were followed by Dodgers center fielder Matt Kemp and Nationals shortstop Cristian Guzman.

"To all the fans across the country, Mahalo for your support," said Victorino, the fourth Hawaiian to be selected for the All-Star Game following Ron Darling, Sid Fernandez and Charlie Hough. "I am so honored and appreciative of the passion that everyone has shown to make this dream come true, especially with the number of votes cast. It's just unbelievable.

"I was surprised a little, but I knew this was an opportunity for me to really see and understand what it's really like to be a Phillie. It really showed by what has happened. I'm very appreciative."

Entering Thursday morning, Sandoval was only two percentage points behind Victorino. He was not bitter about coming up just short -- certainly not like many of his fans who were still expressing some anguish over what they felt was a solid choice.

"I'm happy," Sandoval said. "For [being in] my first [whole] year in the big leagues, to be in the [Final] Vote, it's too much, you know?"

This year's record number of votes represents an increase of 43.5 percent from the previous mark of 47.8 million set in 2008. Since its inception in 2002, the All-Star Game Sprint Final Vote has now recorded nearly 200 million votes.

It was the first time in Final Vote history that two players won after trailing in each of the first two voting updates. The alliance unquestionably mattered, as fans in Detroit voted heavily for Victorino and fans in Philadelphia did the same for Inge.

This was the year of numerous lead changes and unprecedented suspense, and also the year that Twitter entered the equation as a natural companion. Campaigning reached new levels with that real-time element, as people from McCain to Sandoval's teammate Barry Zito to clubs and local TV stations got involved with tweets. People posted twitpics of images such as Victorino's teammate Chan Ho Park wearing a Vote Victorino sandwich board and Uncle Sam saying "Vote for Pablo" and links to videos and blogs.

This was the year that Kinsler always seemed to be a shoo-in and then was left on the outside looking in. Kinsler was a fixture atop the weekly voting updates at AL second base, but he was overtaken at the end by Boston's Dustin Pedroia and then left off the roster by AL manager Joe Maddon of the Rays. Kinsler was the announced leader in each of the first two Final Vote updates, but he was passed by Inge on Day 3 and finished runnerup.

"It's not disappointing," Kinsler said before the Rangers' game against Seattle on Thursday, taking the result in stride. "It's something that's cool to be a part of, but at the same time, if you don't go, there's only a certain amount of guys who can go."

Reynolds, who entered Thursday tied for second in the NL with 24 homers, said he thought it was "kind of funny" that so much attention was given to him throughout the Final Vote.

"My wife actually said to me, 'Didn't [Dan] Haren and [Justin] Upton make the team? They didn't mention a word about them,'" Reynolds said. "It's been fun, though. I enjoyed it."

Asked how it felt to receive an endorsement from his homestate U.S. Senator and the person who lost to Barack Obama last fall, Reynolds said: "It's really cool to have a Senator back you like that. Hearing that, it kind of put things into perspective about what a big deal this actually is. I appreciated his support and the support of everyone who voted for me."

Figgins entered Thursday leading the AL in runs scored (63), and he has the highest on-base percentage (.395) among all leadoff men in the Majors. He ranked ninth in the AL in batting average (.310), 10th in hits (99) and fourth in steals (24). It was not enough to get him a vote he really wanted, and he accepted the news with typical dignity.

"I really wanted to win and go to the All-Star Game representing my team, I can't deny that," Figgins said. "But it didn't happen, and I congratulate Inge. There are a lot of good third basemen in our league, and he's one of them.

"I want to thank the organization and all the fans for voting for me, and I especially thank my teammates and their families for getting behind me. It really means a lot knowing it was so important to those people who are closest to you. In a way, that's just as meaningful as winning and going to the All-Star Game.

"Maybe my time will come soon. It's definitely a goal of mine, along with the biggest goal -- winning a World [Series] championship again."

Maddon, who had the honor nominating Final Vote candidates because his team made the World Series last year, will not be adding a fifth Ray to this All-Star Game. At least not via the Final Vote. Pena came in fourth, despite a heavy "Vote for Los" campaign that included advertisements, online commercials, fliers, merchandise and white T-shirts adorned with his face. There also had been a video tribute Thursday featuring comedian Rob Schneider played on the Tropicana Field scoreboard pushing fans to keep voting.

"It's been great, the fans have showed me so much love here in St. Petersburg and worldwide," Pena said after Thursday's 3-2 win over Toronto. "I know people in the Dominican Republic have been voting. My family has been amazing. And just to know that they consider me an All-Star -- their All-Star -- it's so flattering to me."

Lind was trying to pull off a rarity -- make the All-Star Game despite not having been on the starter ballot. He made an impressive showing, and it obviously meant a lot to him that teammates and member of the Blue Jays' staff donned black T-shirts with the slogan "Lind Your Vote." The players wore the shirts during batting practice, hoping to convince a few more fans in the stands to click Lind's name on the ballot.

"It's been an unbelievable feeling to have the support of my teammates," Lind said. "To have someone like Roy Halladay and Vernon Wells wear your shirt -- veterans of the game -- it makes you feel good. I would've liked to have gone, but it's still a fun week to experience."

Mainly, it was the year of Bran-Torino.

It's a sweet ride.

The two clubs encouraged businesses in Michigan and Pennsylvania to allow their workers some time Wednesday and Thursday to vote for Inge and Victorino.

Victorino had mentioned a potential pairing to reporters Tuesday.

"The Giants and Texas did it," Victorino said. "We [were] both in second place. Why don't we join forces and join together?"

Inge said he has talked with Victorino a couple times during his career, but never really got to know him.

"I've spoken to him a couple of times," Inge said. "That's funny, though. What did they call it, Bran-Torino? That's funny."

Previous winners of the All-Star Game Sprint Final Vote are: Evan Longoria (AL, 2008); Corey Hart (NL, 2008); 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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