07/01/07 8:00 PM ET
Okajima among Final Vote candidates
Red Sox reliever seeking All-Star berth in rookie season
By Ian Browne / MLB.com
The fun doesn't end there, however. Fans, having already decided the starters and final player on each team, once again will have the opportunity to participate in the official voting for the Ted Williams Most Valuable Player presented by Chevrolet via the Monster 2007 All-Star Game MVP Vote on MLB.com.The 78th 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. ESPN Radio will provide exclusive national radio coverage, while MLB.com will provide extensive online coverage. XM will provide satellite radio play-by-play coverage of the XM All-Star Futures Game. It was expected that the Red Sox would have a star rookie from Japan this season. It's just that all the hype was over starting pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka, who is 9-5 with a 3.80 ERA. Okajima, who dubbed himself a "hero in the dark" in Spring Training, has been arguably as valuable as any member of the Red Sox this season. A solid veteran during his 12 years in Nippon Professional Baseball, Okajima has been dominant for the Red Sox, registering 35 strikeouts in 39 innings. With the Red Sox giving All-Star closer Papelbon a conservative workload, Okajima has saved four games. He's held opponents to a .163 batting average. Has Okajima ever pitched better than he has in Boston? "I've been successful, but this isn't the best, because I've done a good job in Japan too," Okajima said recently through translator Jeff Yamaguchi. "Although, numbers-wise, with my ERA, this is the best. In Japan, relief pitchers must pitch every day, so you get tired." Okajima's stellar run is due in large part to a changeup with splitter-like action that he developed over the winter after experimenting with the Major League Baseball, which is bigger than the one in Japan. "I got the new changeup in December, but I didn't want to use it in exhibition games because I didn't want to show it to the other teams," Okajima said. "I tried to make them think my weapon was a curve. So I went curve, curve, curve and didn't throw that changeup at all." Papelbon hopes not to be the only Boston reliever going to San Fran. "[Okajima] definitely is well deserving of that, no doubt about it," Papelbon said. "Hopefully we can sway some votes his way."
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.