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Futures Game goes to USA team
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07/11/2004 9:26 AM ET
Futures Game goes to USA team
Aaron Hill wins Larry Doby Award as MVP
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Aaron Hill of the Blue Jays won the Larry Doby Award as the Futures MVP. (Eric Gay/AP)

HOUSTON -- The future of pitching looked a little brighter than the future of hitting for the better part of Sunday afternoon at Minute Maid Park in baseball's annual showcase of the next generation of All-Stars.

Not too many balls got out of the infield in the sixth edition of the All-Star Futures Game, and all the runs that the USA team scored in its 4-3 victory over the World team were unearned.

Even when the World team managed to make something happen in the final inning, pitching got in the last word when Detroit's Kyle Sleeth got Atlanta's Andy Marte to ground out to short with the tying run on third, recording a one-out save in the first relief appearance of his life.

"It was a pitchers' duel," said Sleeth, the third overall pick in the 2003 First-Year Player Draft. "Those first few innings went by real quick."

That's because there weren't that many hits. A total of 17 pitchers allowed only 11 hits in the seven-inning exhibition, and as a group, pitchers registered a total of 17 strikeouts.

2004 All-Star Sunday

The game's MVP honor, however, went to one of the only guys who did something at the plate.

Toronto prospect Aaron Hill -- who doubled home what turned out to be two crucial runs in the fifth -- was chosen the recipient of the Larry Doby Award as the Futures MVP. He follows in the footsteps of players like current Major Leaguers Alfonso Soriano, Sean Burroughs, Toby Hall and Jose Reyes in achieving that honor.

Only a year removed from playing in the College World Series for LSU, Hill wasn't even supposed to be in this game. But he was chosen as a late replacement for fellow Toronto farmhand Russ Adams, the Jays' Triple-A shortstop who suffered an ankle injury.

"I'm glad I came," Hill said when presented the award in a ceremony that was, ironically enough, held on the Minute Maid Park mound. "I could get used to playing in stadiums like this."

Every player on the field Sunday plans on doing the same thing. For many of them, this was the first taste of the big-league life.

Even before he worked out of an error-aided jam in the third inning to get the victory, John Danks of the Rangers' Double-A Frisco team had lived an experience of a lifetime.

"We've been treated like big leaguers since we've been here," Danks said. "I haven't carried my bag once since I got here, and I've got a king-size bed at the hotel."

And now he has a 'W' to take home with him.

The USA team's first two runs were scored when Mariners prospect Shin-soo Choo couldn't handle a fly to right in the third off the bat of B.J. Upton, Tampa Bay's prized shortstop. The two unearned runs the World team's Arnie Munoz (White Sox) allowed in the fifth inning came after a leadoff double by Conor Jackson of Arizona and then Hill's line-drive double, with an error in between.

Detroit lefty Wilfredo Ledezma -- who looked like he was out of a jam when he got Upton to pop up -- was saddled with the loss.

"I think I pitched well," the Venezuela native said, "because I think I threw all my pitches when I wanted. I had that one error."

The World team came to life a little bit in the seventh against Giants right-hander Matt Cain. After Jorge Cortes (Pirates) drew a leadoff walk and Robinzon Diaz (Blue Jays) followed with a shot to center that Val Majewski (Orioles) couldn't track down, Cain walked the bases loaded before being relieved.

The World team scored on a grounder through the right side by Felix Pie (Cubs), a groundout and a Gavin Floyd (Phillies) wild pitch to pull within a run. But Sleeth left the tying run on third base by inducing Marte's groundout.

In the early innings, two pitchers close to the big leagues -- Colorado's Jeff Francis and San Diego's Tim Stauffer -- pitched well. Francis, the starter for the World team, struck out two USA batters in the bottom of the first, and Stauffer struck out a pair in the top of the second.

"I'm happy with it," Francis, a Canadian, said of his outing. "I tried to go out there, go after the guys. I just treated it like any other start. I was nervous, but excited."

Stauffer made it clear this could be a long day for the hitters with a dominant second inning, striking out two and getting a groundout to first in rapid fashion.

"I think it's to our advantage, because it's a little tougher to hit than pitch in this kind of situation," Stauffer said. "I felt like I had pretty good command of my stuff today."

Later, Braves prospect Jose Capellan dazzled the USA hitters with his 98 mph fastball and sharp breaking ball, striking out Prince Fielder (Brewers) in the fourth. Oakland's Jairo Garcia also got a chance to show off his high-90s stuff later in the game.

It was a day for the future of pitching, and the winning pitcher knew it before he even got in the game.

"I'd seen the first couple of guys put up some quick innings," Danks said. "I just told myself, 'Don't mess this up.'"

John Schlegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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