Rather than dwelling on the embarrassing Rangers series and the Rays giving back their goodwill as they are ever so accustomed to doing, I would like to address the 2009 AllStar Game and its participants. Four Tampa Bay Rays, breaking last year’s record of three, made it into the game with the possibility of a fifth.
Evan Longoria won the voting at third base by a landslide, and for good reason. He has hit 21 home runs and is up about 20 points on his batting average in 2009. He is still doing just about everything he did last year and making his case as a top MVP candidate. Congratulations to the first ever Tampa Bay starter in an AllStar Game. Now do us proud.
Jason Bartlett was voted in as a reserve shortstop by the players. He should have been the starter, and would have been if not for the reputation and Yankee votes for Derek Jeter. He is hitting around .360 with eight home runs he had one last season and has stepped his game up in just about every possible way. And he was already the team MVP last year.
Carl Crawford is another very deserving name. Hitting around .320 for most of the season, Crawford now has eight home runs and a blistering 41 stolen bases. Add a few more walks and he would be Rickey Henderson. This lineup falters without a jump start from him. This will be his third AllStar appearance.
Ben Zobrist was a controversial, but sensible, selection by Joe Maddon. Not even a regular starter for nearly two months, Zobrist has hit home runs and done all the right things when games were on the line. He has 16 home runs, eight stolen bases and about a .400 onbase percentage. He has elevated himself in literally every facet of the game. Just like in the regular season, Maddon can play him in several different spots here. And I know he is not the guy to let this get to his head.
Carlos Pena can also be voted in as part of the Final Vote on MLB.com. He leads the league in home runs and usually plays an outstanding first base. I would like to see him finally have this honor and share it with many other Rays and their loyal fans.
On the Atlanta Braves front, they only managed one representative: catcher Brian McCann, who had the credentials to start despite a slow start to the season due to eye injuries. Those have obviously since been corrected. He has been the bright spot in the lackluster offense for the Braves. Chipper Jones is still doing well, Yunel Escobar is having a good year and Nate McLouth was a welcome boost, but McCann is gluing them all together. He has also had to work with a 60 percent turnover in his starting rotation and has done a very good job with them.
I think the biggest name left out was the Rangers’ Ian Kinsler. He was only hitting .255 as of tonight, but was already near 2020 and has been the spark plug to the Rangers in the absence of Josh Hamilton (who won a starting job anyway). He is in the Final Vote, but I have to vote for Pena. Our apologies to Mr. Kinsler, though his team beating the Rays makes me feel less sorry for him.
Here are the starting lineups:
C Joe Mauer
1B Mark Teixeira
2B Dustin Pedroia (Should have been Kinsler)
SS Derek Jeter (Should have been Bartlett)
3B Evan Longoria
OF Jason Bay
OF Ichiro Suzuki
OF Josh Hamilton (Should have been Crawford or Torii Hunter)
C Yadier Molina (Should have been McCann)
1B Albert Pujols (Obviously)
2B Chase Utley
SS Hanley Ramirez
3B David Wright
OF Ryan Braun
OF Raul Ibanez
OF Carlos Beltran (Will not play due to injury; replacement to be announced)
On an unrelated note, I would like to mention that pitcher Alex Koronis has made his professional debut with the Princeton Rays as a lateinning reliever. The former Tampa Spartan earned a save in his debut on June 30 and has pitched two scoreless outings. This is the first time that I can say a player that I covered, no matter how briefly, has gone on to bigger things. In addition, former Spartan Jose Jimenez hit his first professional home run with the Arizona League Angels on June 23. Keep it up, guys.
Now we have to find out who the starting pitchers and the final men will be. I’m voting for Pena and alternating between Pablo “Kung Fu Panda” Sandoval and Matt Kemp. Anybody but Shane Victorino because we don’t need any more Phillies. Congratulations to the All Stars, and until next time, go Rays.