After 1st half tumult, All-Stars pull into in KC

By Ronald Blum

Associated Press

Published: Monday, July 9 2012 12:00 a.m. MDT

New York Mets' R.A. Dickey delivers a pitch during the first inning of a baseball game against the Philadelphia Phillies, Thursday, July 5, 2012, in New York.

Frank Franklin II, Associated Press

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Much has changed since the All-Stars last pulled into town in 1973. Then again, it seems like much of baseball has been turned upside down since the final out of the crazy World Series last October.

Five no-hitters, including two perfect games. A four-home run night by Josh Hamilton. Pittsburgh and Washington together in first place for the first time. Philadelphia in the cellar. Cliff Lee winless until his 14th start.

"Seeing what's going on here, it's fun to be a part of it," A.J. Burnett said after improving to 10-2 as the Pirates routed the San Francisco Giants and Tim Lincecum 13-2 Sunday.

If the season ended now, the first year of expanded playoffs would open with Baltimore at the Los Angeles Angels for the one-game AL wild card, with the winner hosting the Yankees in the division series opener. The Chicago White Sox would host two-time AL champ Texas in the other best-of-5 series — which for one year only starts at the team with the lesser regular-season record.

In the NL, Cincinnati would host Atlanta for the wild card, with the winner hosting the Nationals — a franchise whose only postseason appearance was as the Montreal Expos in 1981. The Pirates, out of the postseason since Francisco Cabrera's two-out, two-run hit for Atlanta in 1992, would host the post-Frank McCourt Los Angeles Dodgers.

"Everybody feels good, and they're looking for the break," Washington manager Davey Johnson said. "They've battled hard. We've had a lot of close games. It's a good time for a break."

The Angels' Mike Trout, one of a record five rookies making the trip to Kauffman Stadium for Tuesday night's game, leads the AL with a .341 average. After spending the start of the season in the minors, he's the first player with 10 homers and 20 steals at the break without having any in April, according to STATS LLC.

"A game-changer, offensively, defensively," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "The kid has got a lot of talent, a ton. Usually when you see a guy that fast, you don't anticipate him hitting the ball that hard. What he's doing at 20, it's really pretty amazing."

And at 20, Trout's not even the All-Star baby. That would be 19-year-old Bryce Harper, the youngest position player in All-Star history and the third-youngest ever behind Bob Feller in 1938 and Dwight Gooden in 1984.

Harper made his big league debut on April 28, the same night Trout played his first game this season. Combining with staff ace Stephen Strasburg for a capital dynamic duo, Harper is hitting .282 with eight homers and 25 RBIs in 63 games. No wonder the team put up a banner reading "NATITUDE PARK."

"I can hardly pronounce the dang word," Johnson said with a smile.

Alongside the newbies are plenty of familiar faces.

Hamilton, who hit four homers for Texas at Baltimore on May 8, and Toronto's Jose Bautista will both be there after hitting 27 homers apiece in the first half. Despite being slowed by back spasms and an intestinal virus, Hamilton leads the AL with 75 RBIs.

Pittsburgh's Andrew McCutchen leads with the NL with a .362 average, while Milwaukee's Ryan Braun is tops with 24 homers after successfully overturning a 50-game suspension for a positive drug test last October. In his first season with St. Louis, Carlos Beltran has a league-high 65 RBIs.

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