06/28/2004 4:00 PM ET
AL All-Star outfield race heats up
Matsui, Ichiro locked in battle for third place
By Tom Singer / MLB.com
|Hideki Matsui moved into third place in AL All-Star outfield balloting. (Bill Kostroun/AP)
Just as the shakeup of the American League All-Star Team appeared to be a done deal, Hideki Matsui and Ichiro Suzuki served reminders that they hail from the Land of the Rising Votes.
The Yankees' Matsui and Seattle's Ichiro, both starters in last summer's game, are poised for a furious faceoff for the last remaining outfield berth in the precious hours left to cast online ballots.
As reflected by the latest voting results, announced Monday afternoon, Matsui (1,264,633 votes) has supplanted teammate Gary Sheffield for the third starting spot behind Vladimir Guerrero and Manny Ramirez.
But breathing down Matsui's neck is three-time All-Star Ichiro (1,207,614), whose rally lowered Sheffield all the way to fifth place.
Meanwhile Yankees captain Derek Jeter seems assured of the first All-Star start of his remarkable career.
However, with exclusively online balloting ending at 11:59 p.m. Wednesday night, the other suspenseful race is for overall vote supremacy.
As he has throughout the vote, Texas second baseman Alfonso Soriano continues to lead the tally with 2,333,795 votes.
Yet Guerrero (2,088,001) and Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez (2,014,890) are still in a position to snatch the trophy away.
The rise of the Matsui-Ichiro battle could double the number of incumbents in the lineup for the July 13 extravaganza at Houston's Minute Maid Park.
Previously, the only incumbent starter appeared to be Soriano. And even his uniform will be different -- it'll be Texas Rangers royal blue, not Yankees navy blue.
Voters still have until Wednesday's deadline to show their favorites love, and online votes, and in the process perhaps shake things up even more.
As it is, the prospective AL All-Star starting lineup offers an exciting blend of newcomers and comebackers.
At first, Jason Giambi of the Yankees remains in line to reclaim the starting spot he had in 2000 and 2002. With 1,296,809 votes, he is comfortably ahead of the White Sox's Frank Thomas, who continued to scale the charts to No. 2.
Thomas, fourth in the voting two weeks ago, rallied into the runner-up slot with 613,020 votes. Carlos Delgado, the starter last year who has been out of Toronto's lineup for a month, slipped to third.
At second, Soriano has a clamp on his third consecutive All-Star start, maintaining a chasm of 1.5 million votes over runner-up Pokey Reese of Boston.
At short, Jeter, a five-time All-Star but never a starter, is still running nearly 300,000 votes ahead of Boston's Nomar Garciaparra, who started the 1999 game.
As for the AL's starting shortstop last summer ...
Rodriguez is now locked in at third, where his lead of 1.26 million votes over Texas' Hank Blalock says he will be his league's fourth different starter in as many years at the position.
Troy Glaus started in 2003. Six weeks after a shoulder injury knocked him out for possibly the rest of this season, Glaus finally fell off the leaderboard at the position.
At catcher, Ivan Rodriguez continues to hold off 2003 starter Jorge Posada by a half-million ballots in a bid to reclaim the position he owned from 1992 to 2001.
Guerrero and Boston's Manny Ramirez (1,877,779 votes) represent All-Star facelifts of different sorts.
Guerrero has been an NL All-Star starter as a Montreal Expo -- but not at Chicago's U.S. Cellular Field last summer, while he was taking a long break with a herniated disc.
And Ramirez, elected last year for what would've been his fourth consecutive All-Star start, also sat out with injury. His replacement in the lineup, Anaheim's Garret Anderson, wound up with MVP honors in the AL's 7-6 triumph.
Suzuki, Sheffield and Boston's Johnny Damon compose the new runners-up tier in the outfield vote, where the standings experienced the biggest move of them all.
Carlos Beltran moved from Kansas City to Houston, and from the AL ballot to the NL ballot, taking along his very respectable total of 879,796 votes.
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.