'Bran Torino' leads Final Vote down stretch
Alliance of Inge-Victorino has fans casting ballots in droves
After nearly four days of furious voting and lead changes, we're down to the final two hours of the record-setting 2009 All-Star Game Sprint Final Vote. Both races remain up-for-grabs as the 4 p.m. ET deadline approaches with Phillies outfielder Shane Victorino and Tigers third baseman Brandon Inge still holding on to leads, so every single vote of the millions being cast matters.
The rest of the standings is unaltered from the previous noon ET update. The Final Vote already has surpassed all-time records for total ballots cast and total votes, with 33.1 million and 53.4 million counted earlier this morning, respectively. Voting continues exclusively on MLB.com and the individual club sites, where winners will be announced shortly thereafter.
In the American League, Inge and Rangers second baseman Ian Kinsler remain locked in a tightly-contested competition as they enter the final hours of balloting. Angels third baseman Chone Figgins, Rays first baseman Carlos Pena and Blue Jays designated hitter Adam Lind continue to draw impressive fan support in their campaigns for the final spot.
In the National League, Victorino, who has already accumulated 10.8 million votes to surpass Evan Longoria's record-setting nine million in 2008, holds a slight edge over his top contender, Giants third baseman Pablo Sandoval. That race will go down to the wire. Arizona third baseman Mark Reynolds remains in third place, while Dodgers center fielder Matt Kemp and Nationals shortstop Cristian Guzman follow in order.
The Final Vote determines who will be the 33rd and final player added to each league's roster for the 80th All-Star Game on July 14 in St. Louis. Numerous lead changes and record voting have set the stage for an unpredictable finish. Updates have been throughout the day here and through @MLB on Twitter, which has constant campaign updates up until the voting deadline.
Victorino gave Phillies fans late-inning heroics with his walk-off single in the ninth inning Wednesday night against Cincinnati, and Phillies fans just might be giving the outfielder their own late-inning rally by propelling him into first place on the NL ballot. He overtook Sandoval, who was leading in the first three voting updates during this four-day event.
Charlie Manuel, the Phillies' manager who also will manage the NL team at Busch Stadium, told Victorino that if he does that four more times, he will take him with him to the All-Star Game. Fortunately for Victorino, he has fans who can get him there first.
"All right," Victorino chuckled, when told of Manuel's comment. "I guess he wants to put pressure on me, but all right. I guess I'll take the challenge, if that's the case."
Inge and Victorino have been unquestionably helping each other through the Bran Torino alliance, which was formed mutually by the Tigers and Phillies after the first day of balloting saw those candidates in second place. Their pictures are side-by-side as the first thing you see on both teams' sites. The Tigers also have offered fans who vote at least 100 times for Inge an amazing sweepstakes incentive that includes participation in a ceremonial first-pitch event, two infield box seats, a batting practice jersey and much more. Phillies fans who vote for Victorino are entered to win a No. 8 signed jersey and baseball.
"These past few days have been kind of a whirlwind, because of everything," Inge said. "I had no idea it was like this. I just figured they would tell me at the end what happened."
Bran Torino actually came about as a byproduct of a more informal Giants-Rangers alliance that was making the rounds among fans to keep Sandoval and Kinsler on top after they were announced as first-day leaders.
Victorino had mentioned a potential pairing to reporters Tuesday.
"The Giants and Texas did it," Victorino said. "We [were] both in second place. Why don't we join forces and join together?"
Inge said he has talked with Victorino a couple times during his career, but has never been able to get to know him.
"I've spoken to him a couple of times," Inge said. "That's funny, though. What did they call it, Bran Torino? That's funny."
It's funny. It's working. But it's not a sure thing by any means.
Just ask fans of the other candidates still drawing big-time votes.
Sandoval fans continue to campaign strong internationally for the "Kung Fu Panda" from Venezuela, who also has done campaigning on the field during this voting process -- most notably with that grand slam on Monday night. When you go to Sandoval's player page now, you can even watch that Vote for Pablo Dance video that has been making the rounds on the Internet.
The Giants' site also has all the details of a Vote Pablo All-Star Game Final Vote Sweepstakes, which offers some Sandoval voter a luxury suite with 15 friends, a 30-minute field visit including a meet-and-greet with one or more Giants All-Stars, and an All-Star-signed Giants jersey.
Barry Zito, tweeting on his @BarryZito account on Twitter, just added this last-minute fuel to the fire for his teammate to 21,983 followers: "Shane Victorino has pulled ahead in all star voting for the 33rd player. we MUST get Pablo in!" (sic)
The Rangers are campaigning for Kinsler in many ways and urging their fans to keep voting relentlessly for the player who led starter voting at AL second base virtually the entire way until being overtaken by Boston's Dustin Pedroia at the wire. Rangers Captain, the club mascot, will appear at the Texas Rangers Team Shop in downtown Fort Worth from 12-1 p.m. CT today to encourage fans to cast their votes for Kinsler.
There also are a couple of online sweepstakes for Kinsler backers, so all that ballot clicking could add up to some cool merchandise. One offers a chance for you and 19 friends to see the July 21 Rangers-Red Sox game from a suite at Rangers Ballpark. The other is a chance to win three autographed bats -- one signed by Kinsler, and the others signed by All-Stars Josh Hamilton and Michael Young.
Not that fans really need extra incentive to vote. It's more like a bonus for someone who might be pulling one of those "voting all-nighters" we're hearing about.
Mobile voting is available exclusively on Sprint capable mobile phones and fans can send the word "Vote" to 1122 to receive the 2009 All-Star Game Sprint Final Vote ballot. Standard text rates apply. In Canada, fans should text the word "Vote" to 88555.
The All-Star Sprint Game Final Vote program has seen nearly 140 million votes cast since its inception in 2002, including last year's record-setting total when fans chose Longoria and Corey Hart of the Brewers. Previous winners of the All-Star Game Sprint Final Vote are: Hideki Okajima (AL, 2007); Chris Young (NL, 2007); A.J. Pierzynski (AL, 2006); Nomar Garciaparra (NL, 2006); Scott Podsednik (AL, 2005); Roy Oswalt (NL, 2005); Hideki Matsui (AL, 2004); Bobby Abreu (NL, 2004); Jason Varitek (AL, 2003); Geoff Jenkins (NL, 2003); Johnny Damon (AL, 2002); and Andruw Jones (NL, 2002).
The 80th Major League Baseball All-Star Game will be televised nationally by FOX Sports, in Canada by Rogers Sportsnet and Sportsnet HD and televised around the world by Major League Baseball International, with pregame ceremonies beginning at 8 p.m. ET.
Mark Newman is enterprise editor of MLB.com. Reporters Jason Beck and Todd Zolecki contributed to this story. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.