Bonds overcomes big vote gap to be starter

Pittsburgh’s Freddy Sanchez was a surprise choice for the All-Star team.

NEW YORK (AP) — Not only is Barry Bonds going to the All-Star game in his home ballpark, he’ll be in the starting lineup.

The San Francisco Giants star overcame a 119,000-vote deficit in the final days of balloting and finished 123,000 ahead of the Chicago Cubs’ Alfonso Soriano on Sunday to claim the third and final starting outfield spot for the National League.

Bonds, heading to his 14th All-Star game and 12th as a starter, was the lone Giants player chosen for the July 10 game in San Francisco — his first trip since 2004. Five home runs from tying Hank Aaron’s record of 755, Bonds is beloved in San Francisco but booed in most other cities following years of suspicion that he used performance-enhancing drugs.

“One guy will be a lot bigger than everybody else. It’s his hometown,” said Cincinnati’s Ken Griffey Jr., the top NL vote-getter. “He gets to have all the fun stuff and the press conferences. I just get to play.”

May hit be in Derby

With the game in his home park, Bonds figures to be the focus all week. He could be one of the sluggers picked to participate in Monday night’s Home Run Derby. If Bonds had been bypassed by fans and players, the choice would have been left to St. Louis’ Tony La Russa, the NL manager.

“I think when our staff got together, we were not surprised at all that either the fans or the players were going to vote him in and that somehow we would put him on,” La Russa said. “He’s having a good year.”

The Boston Red Sox and AL champion Detroit Tigers led all teams with five players selected. Boston is sending first baseman David Ortiz, third baseman Mike Lowell, outfielder Manny Ramirez and pitchers Josh Beckett and Jonathan Papelbon. The Red Sox could gain a sixth, with reliever Hideki Okajima among five players on the Internet ballot for the final AL spot.

Detroit had three players elected to start for the first time since 1983 (second baseman Placido Polanco, outfielder Magglio Ordonez and catcher Ivan Rodriguez). Pudge, a 14-time All-Star, was elected to start for the 12th time. Polanco is a first-time All-Star.

Sanchez named

Pirates fans furiously wrote in Freddy Sanchez’s name hundreds of thousands of times on ballots last summer, attempting to send their surprise star to the All-Star game in his home ballpark.

Sanchez wasn’t voted into the 2006 game, but was an unexpected choice by NL manager Phil Garner despite not becoming an everyday player in Pittsburgh until May. Sanchez didn’t look out of place, making several good defensive plays in the All-Star game in PNC Park before going on to win the NL batting title with a .344 average.

It was one of those can’t-happen stories that make baseball’s All-Star game easily the best of those in the major sports, and it got even better Sunday. Despite not producing the way he did a year ago, Sanchez is an All-Star again — this time, a surprise choice by NL manager Tony La Russa of St. Louis.

“Shocked,” Sanchez said. “I’m totally shocked.”

Sanchez’s own manager, Jim Tracy, couldn’t hide his disappointment that one of the Pirates’ two young standout starting pitchers, Tom Gorzelanny (8-4, 3.05 ERA) and Ian Snell (6-5, 2.90 ERA), wasn’t chosen.

“It’s the manager’s choice. He made the choice,” Tracy said. “Both those guys [Gorzelanny and Snell] are deserving of it. ... You can sit and talk about guys who are deserving. It doesn’t make it right, it doesn’t make it wrong.”

Playing through pain

Still, considering how Sanchez has pushed his average above .300 despite playing on an injured knee that sidelined him for most of spring training, it was hard for anyone with the Pirates to be upset by Sanchez’s repeat selection.

Sanchez is the first Pirates infielder to be chosen for consecutive All-Star games since Garner, of all players, in 1980 and 1981.

“I didn’t think I had a chance,” said Sanchez, who didn’t finish among the top eight NL votegetters at second base despite winning the batting title last season.

Sanchez’s numbers (.301, 1 homer, 28 RBIs) are down from a year ago, when he hit .344 with six homers and 85 RBIs. That average was the highest by a Pirates player since Hall of Famer Roberto Clemente hit .345 in 1969.

But the knee injury slowed him badly early in the season, as evidenced by his .244 average in April. He bounced back to hit .317 in May and .343 (34-for-99) in June.

“I was planning to go to a resort for several days, but I think I can make it to San Francisco,” Sanchez said. “I hope I can represent the Pirates in a great way.”

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