07/04/2004 7:00 PM ET
Three Yankees to start for AL
Last-minute rally gives Ichiro third starting outfield spot
By Tom Singer / MLB.com
|Derek Jeter will make the first All-Star start of his career. (Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images)
When the Lone Star State becomes the All-Star State on July 13, the American League team will be in a New York state of mind.
Three New York Yankees headline the AL's starting lineup for the 75th Midsummer Classic at Houston's Minute Maid Park, including shortstop Derek Jeter, voted to start an All-Star Game for the first time in his career.
The 31-man AL roster announced Sunday night reflects a blend of familiar faces and new blood, including 11 first-time All-Stars.
Alex Rodriguez, retaining his All-Star starting status at the new position of third base, and first baseman Jason Giambi were also elected by fans to join their captain in the lineup.
Outfielder Hideki Matsui, however, was overtaken in the final days of balloting by compatriot Ichiro Suzuki (Mariners), who rallied into his fourth straight All-Star start.
And a recent Yankee, the Rangers' Alfonso Soriano, draws the start at second base after leading wire-to-wire as the overall top vote-getter, with 3,466,447, including an online record 3,056,277 cast at MLB.com. Furthermore, former Yankees ace Roger Clemens is expected to draw the starting assignment for the NL.
Catcher Ivan Rodriguez makes a triumphant return as the AL's starting catcher, a position he owned for 10 years starting in 1992 -- ironically, the year after a Detroit player last started an All-Star Game, Cecil Fielder.
Vladimir Guerrero of Anaheim and Manny Ramirez of Boston round out the AL outfield and the eight-man starting lineup, with the designated hitter excluded from the NL-hosted event.
"I think all All-Star Games are special," Ivan Rodriguez said. "It's not easy to get there. I've enjoyed it every time I've been there."
"I'm just very proud to be selected to the All-Star Game once again," said Ramirez, who had to pass on last year's honor due to injury. "That's something that, when you're not playing anymore, that's always going to be there for your kids. You're always going to remember that. I just want to thank all my fans. They're always good to me."
Matsui, in position to start a week ago, fell completely off the squad, which was completed by a vote of the players and AL manager Joe Torre.
The irony is that Matsui (.276, 15 HRs, 51 RBIs into Sunday's game) is having a statistically superior season to any of the three elected Yankees starters, with the highest average and most RBIs among them.
Torre, who called the shots on adding the final four pitchers and three position players, will travel to Houston with three other Yankees: outfielder Gary Sheffield and relievers Tom Gordon and Mariano Rivera.
However, Torre's only choice among those was Gordon, with Sheffield and Rivera carrying the players' votes.
Sheffield becomes the first player ever to be an All-Star with five different teams. The veteran had previously been an All-Star with San Diego, Florida, Los Angeles and Atlanta.
Torre's other picks were shortstops Carlos Guillen of Detroit and Miguel Tejada of Baltimore, Royals first baseman Ken Harvey, and pitchers Ted Lilly (Toronto), Esteban Loaiza (White Sox) and Joe Nathan (Minnesota).
"My toughest call was to see Jorge [Posada] not make it for the first time in a couple of years," said Torre.
Runners-up in All-Star representation with five are the Texas Rangers. Joining Soriano are left-hander Kenny Rogers, a leading candidate to start the game, reliever Francisco Cordero and the right side of the Rangers infield, Michael Young and '03 All-Star hero Hank Blalock.
The Indians, flying under the radar as one of the Majors' top first-half surprises, are next with four selections. They include outfielder Matt Lawton, second baseman Ron Belliard and the battery of catcher Victor Martinez and left-hander C.C. Sabathia.
"You never realized what they were doing until you saw them beat teams and win some games," Torre said, complimenting the Tribe.
Tampa Bay (outfielder Carl Crawford), Toronto (Lilly), Baltimore (Tejada), Minnesota (Nathan), Kansas City (Harvey), the White Sox (Loaiza) and the Mariners (Ichiro) each placed one player on the squad.
West-leading Oakland has only two representatives, but right-hander Tim Hudson and lefty Mark Mulder make the A's the only team with two starting pitchers on the AL squad.
There were considerable parallels between players' and fans' ballots. In cases where picks of the two groups matched, the runner-up in the players' vote received an automatic berth.
The two sides agreed on the starting outfield trio, second and catcher. They only disagreed at the three positions where fans elected Yankees.
In the players' vote, first baseman David Ortiz was an easy winner over Harvey, Blalock edged A-Rod, and Young and Tejada ran one-two at short.
"They took some thought, didn't just brush it aside," Torre said, applauding the players' effort. "They paid attention to it. The players were really tuned in to who was doing well, which made a difference.
"Players were very tuned in to who deserves to be on the All-Star team. Ortiz, number one."
"I worked for it, man," said Ortiz, who leads the AL with 76 RBIs and is tied for the lead with 22 homers. "I tried my best all the time. I had the hope that one day I was going to have the chance and here we are. Now I'll just keep trying to have more opportunities."
So the players sponsored Texas' Young, whose .330 average tops AL shortstops, and Torre invited Tejada, who was surprised by the choice despite typically imposing numbers (.316-15-59).
"There are so many good players who had great years," Tejada said. "So many guys from that position ... this year, I didn't think I was going to make it."
Ortiz and Young are among the All-Star rookies, none of whom are thrilled more than Crawford, the Majors' stolen base leader (38) who gets to make a Houston homecoming as an All-Star.
"I've called everybody back home. They are excited," Crawford said. "I didn't see it coming. I don't know how I pulled this one off. I'm a little nervous, but I'm looking forward to everyting."
The other first-timers are Martinez, whose 12 homers and 60 RBIs lead all AL catchers, Lilly (7-4, 4.04 ERA), Harvey (.330), Nathan (23-for-24 in saves, 1.09 ERA), Guillen (.328-11-57), Belliard (.317) and the electric relief duo of Angels setup man Francisco Rodriguez (1.04 ERA in 35 games) and Rangers closer Cordero (24 saves, 1.85 ERA).
"I know that I'm definitely fortunate to have this experience," Lilly said.
Ivan Rodriguez is the senior member of the squad, making his 11th appearance, while Ramirez and Sheffield are both on their eighth All-Star squads. But even with the 13 All-Star appearances represented by the right side of the Yankees infield (seventh for Alex Rodriguez and sixth for Jeter), the AL squad will be pretty green.
Twenty of the 31 players will be appearing in their first or second Midsummer Classic.
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.