Red Sox duo locked in close All-Star votes
Youkilis pulls ahead, Pedroia very near in balloting's final days
On his march to the Major Leagues, the little guy who plays second base for the Boston Red Sox has heard over and over again that he can't, but then he laces up his spikes, throws on his glove and proves everyone wrong.
Now Dustin Pedroia is trying to do it again.
Trailing Ian Kinsler of the Texas Rangers for weeks in American League All-Star voting, the reigning AL Most Valuable Player moved within a relative hair of the leader with a little more than two days remaining before voting closes for the 80th Midsummer Classic, which will be played July 14 at Busch Stadium in St. Louis.
It's been a steady climb toward the top for Pedroia, who trailed Kinsler by fewer than 59,000 votes in last week's voting update, and now is fewer than 7,000 votes behind. Once again, the Yankees' Robinson Cano and the Blue Jays' Aaron Hill follow the top two.
Elsewhere around the AL voting, it's clear that crunch time has come and some down-to-the-wire drama is unfolding for several starting slots.
In the ping-pong parade that is the AL first base race, the Red Sox-Yankees rivarly is alive and well in the form of Kevin Youkilis vs. Mark Teixeira. The two have headlined this list from the very beginning of voting, and this week it's Youkilis back on top, by about 40,000 votes.
Three weeks ago, Teixeira had assumed control of the spot, taking a lead on Youkilis for the first time, but two weeks ago Youkilis surged past his Yankees counterpart.
Then, last week, the man they call "Tex" jumped back ahead of Youkilis by more than 35,000 votes. Now Youkilis is back ahead, Teixeira is second, and perennial MVP candidates Justin Morneau of Minnesota and Miguel Cabrera of Detroit are ranked 3 and 4.
Youkilis has 1,915,303 votes; Teixeira has received 1,875,256.
In the other races for starting spots, a few surprises were mixed in among the usual suspects.
Filed under "most expected" is the current result at shortstop, with Derek Jeter of the Yankees -- the league's top vote-getting with 3,046,813 -- holding a significant advantage over Jason Bartlett of the Tampa Bay Rays and looking like a good bet to cruise to his fourth straight All-Star start.
Rangers rookie Elvis Andrus and Blue Jays veteran Marco Scutaro round out the top four at shortstop.
Jeter will get a run for the coveted title of top vote-getter from the leaders at third base and catcher, however.
Tampa Bay's Evan Longoria, angling for his second All-Star appearance in as many years in the Majors, kept the top spot over Alex Rodriguez at the hot corner, and with 2,988,363 ballots cast with his name on them, was closing in on Jeter for total votes. Boston's Mike Lowell, Michael Young of Texas and Brandon Inge of the Tigers complete the top five.
With 2,851,819 votes, Twins catcher Joe Mauer is within striking distance of both Jeter and Longoria. Mauer holds a 1.45 million-vote lead over Boston's Jason Varitek, who is followed by the Yankees' Jorge Posada and the Rangers' Jarrod Saltalamacchia.
Meanwhile, some serious competition continues to brew in the outfield.
While Red Sox left fielder Jason Bay still leads the way in overall outfield voting, Mariners right fielder Ichiro Suzuki's stellar first half has vaulted him into the second spot ahead of Rangers do-it-all center fielder Josh Hamilton for the second straight week.
Torii Hunter of the Angels isn't far behind Hamilton, closing fast in fourth, about 145,000 votes behind. And Boston speedster Jacoby Ellsbury, despite being injured of late, moved with 7,000 votes of Tampa Bay left fielder Carl Crawford for fifth place.
In-stadium voting has ended, but fans can still vote online for starters up to 25 times with the 2009 All-Star Game Sprint Online Ballot at MLB.com and all 30 club sites until Thursday at 11:59 p.m. ET.
Starting rosters will be announced during the 2009 All-Star Game Selection Show presented by Pepsi on TBS on Sunday. Baseball fans around the world will then be able to select the final player on each team via the 2009 All-Star Game Sprint Final Vote at MLB.com.
And the voting doesn't end there. Fans will have the opportunity to participate in the official voting for the Ted Williams Most Valuable Player Award presented by Chevrolet at the Midsummer Classic via the 2009 All-Star Game Sprint MVP Vote at MLB.com.
The All-Star Game will be televised nationally by FOX and around the world by Major League Baseball International. ESPN Radio will provide exclusive national radio play-by-play, while MLB.com will offer extensive online coverage.
Doug Miller is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.