Cubs, Red Sox Dominate All-Star Rosters; Nats' Guzmán Selected for 2nd Time
Monday, July 7, 2008
This year's All-Star Game owes much of its appeal to history. History explains the luster of the setting, Yankee Stadium, and the allure of the starting lineups, composed largely of players from two of baseball's oldest franchises, the Chicago Cubs and Boston Red Sox.
But history also explains the importance of a smaller thread. After all, without knowing the context of Cristian Guzmán's several-year struggle, the shortstop's selection would appear merely like the reward for a good season, not the validation of an unlikely comeback.
Given that every franchise must send at least one player to the July 15 game, Guzmán, the National League leader in hits, was the logical Washington Nationals choice. He's missed just three games all season. He's batting .313. His 14-game hitting streak, extended yesterday against Cincinnati, is the longest current streak in the league.
"We think he was the player on our roster who deserved it the most," Washington General Manager Jim Bowden said.
Though teammates laud Guzmán for his consistency, only a rapid series of changes made this all-star season possible. During his first three years in Washington, Guzmán, 30, never fulfilled the expectations that had earned him a four-year, $16.8 million contract. He missed playing time because of injuries: to his shoulder, his hamstring, his thumb. Even when he played, he struggled; with 456 at-bats in 2005, for instance, he batted .219. He looked nothing like the player who made an all-star game in 2001, when he played with Minnesota.
"You know, I just play hard every day, and when you play hard every day, something happens," Guzmán said.
At one time an independent league player, Baltimore Orioles closer George Sherrill achieved another improbable accomplishment with his nomination to the AL staff. Sherrill likened the moment he heard of his nomination to the day he was called up to the major leagues: "I didn't know what to think," he said yesterday after Baltimore's game against the Texas Rangers.
Sherrill has been a cornerstone in a bullpen that has been Baltimore's strongest asset almost the entire year. He was one of five prospects dealt from the Seattle Mariners in February for Erik Bedard, who is 6-4 and has a 3.67 ERA for the struggling Mariners. Sherrill has shined with 27 saves and a 3.72 ERA.
"I've gone on record before saying it's a great story for baseball," Orioles Manager Dave Trembley said. "A guy where he's come from and now going to pitch in the All-Star Game in the last one in Yankee Stadium, I think it's great."
The cast of stars this year includes the sport's top vote-getter in the fan ballot (hometown representative Alex Rodriguez), the sport's batting leader (Atlanta's Chipper Jones), and the National League's best Triple Crown candidate (Houston's Lance Berkman). Rodriguez, a 12-time all-star, has been selected by the fans 11 times; this was the second year in a row he led the majors in votes.
The NL, losers of 10 in a row, not counting the 2002 tie in Milwaukee, will have a decidedly Chicago tint. The Cubs have seven players on the team, including Geovany Soto, Aramis Ramírez and Kerry Wood. One Cub, former Washington star Alfonso Soriano, overcame a .192 average in April. Another, Kosuke Fukudome, overcame a different kind of obstacle: He drew 2,994,935 fan votes, edging into the game ahead of Cincinnati's Ken Griffey Jr. (2,907,746 votes), the most popular player in all-star balloting history.
Take away the Cubs, and no team in the National League has more than two representatives. Philadelphia's Chase Utley, the league's top vote-getter, will start for the third consecutive year at second base.
Though the 79th All-Star Game will have its usual mainstays -- Albert Pujols will appear for the seventh time; Yankees Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera for the ninth; Boston outfielder Manny Ramírez for the 12th -- both rosters are dominated by first-timers. Two possible National League starting pitchers, Cincinnati's Edinson Vólquez and San Francisco's Tim Lincecum, had never made an all-star roster. The same holds true for three American League outfielders (Boston's J.D. Drew, Chicago's Carlos Quentin and Texas's Josh Hamilton), as well as possible AL starting pitcher Cliff Lee, of Cleveland.