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Hurlers a force to be reckoned with
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07/11/2004  7:44 PM ET
Hurlers a force to be reckoned with
Futures Game dominated by strong pitching
tickets for any Major League Baseball game
Pitcher Jeff Francis of the World team delivers a pitch against the USA team. (Brian Bahr/Getty Images)
HOUSTON -- A pitchers' duel?

At cozy Minute Maid Park, with some of the minor leagues' best hitters eyeing some of baseball's shortest fences?

"No way," said Rangers prospect John Danks, a right-hander. "I figured it would be a 9-8 ballgame instead of what it turned out to be. But it was a fun game to be a part of."

Yes, the state of pitching in the minor leagues is strong. A team of U.S. prospects held off a late rally to beat a World squad, 4-3, in an All-Star Futures Game on Sunday that included no home runs and only three extra-base hits.

In fact, until the World rallied for three runs in the seventh and final inning, it managed just three hits and only knocked four balls out of the infield against the U.S. pitching staff. Giants prospect Matt Cain was tagged for three runs in the seventh after he surrendered a double and two walks, but the Phillies' Gavin Floyd and the Tigers' Kyle Sleeth preserved the winning margin.

"There was some electric stuff out there, great curveballs, great sliders," said Sleeth, who induced a game-ending groundout to strand the tying run at third base. "I wouldn't want to be a hitter today. It just shows you that as good as the hitters are out there, the pitchers are pretty good too.

"I bet a lot of people expected the score to be high. Everything is about hitting, about power. It was just good to go out there and show we've got pitching, too."

U.S. starter Joe Blanton, an Oakland product, and San Diego's Tim Stauffer set the tone early, holding the World hitless in an inning apiece. Blanton walked one batter, who eventually was stranded at second base, and Stauffer struck out two in a 1-2-3 inning.

2004 All-Star Sunday

"Any time you can get the momentum starting off a game it makes a difference," Blanton said. "You put your team on top, and the hitters start going at it a little different on both sides."

That was the philosophy from the beginning, Stauffer said. Only one batter, Justin Morneau from the World squad, got four plate appearances in the game, and most hitters went up looking for a pitch to hit early in counts, anxious to make the most of their limited appearances on the biggest stage of their lives.

"You can use it to your advantage," Stauffer said. "If you show them one or two different pitches, then you can show them something they haven't seen before. I think pitching dominated the game today and we set the tone early. It was a pitcher's game from the get-go, pretty much all the way to the end."

Pretty much. The World loaded the bases in the third inning against Danks, who wiggled out of trouble. That was the World team's only rally until the seventh.

U.S. futures pitched seven combined innings, allowing three runs on five hits and four walks with nine strikeouts. The World staff was even better, allowing no earned runs (all four scored after costly errors) in six innings on six hits, no walks and eight strikeouts.

"It wasn't strikeout, strikeout, strikeout," Danks said. "The ball was put in play, but when it was all over I think the pitchers dominated."

"It was nice to go out there and get outs today," said Pirates prospect Bryan Bullington, who struck out one in a 1-2-3 sixth. "We didn't have too many problems except for that one inning when they put some runs up there. Any time you get in a game, even an All-Star game, it's more exciting when you win it. I think everybody in here is pretty happy right now."

No one more than Danks, who got the win, and Expos prospect Clint Everts, a native of Houston who was playing in front of friends and family. Danks, Everts and Tampa Bay's Delmon Young were among the youngest members on the U.S. team and the only players on the team from Single-A affiliates.

"I wanted to see what my stuff would do against those guys, and I feel like it went pretty well," said Everts, 19. "Every guy that pitched in the game I was like, 'Wow!' They were bringing it and they were locating. I was really impressed by this whole staff."

Adam McCalvy 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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