SEATTLE Major League Baseball released early results of fan voting for July's All-Star game on Tuesday. They showed the showcase event at Yankee Stadium for the storied park's final summer could look a lot like a Red Sox game.
Boston players were leading the voting at five of the nine positions: Kevin Youkilis, Dustin Pedroia, Jason Varitek, David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez. Yes, there's still more than a month of in-stadium and online voting to go before the game in New York on July 15, but three of Boston's front-runners already lead by more than 200,000 votes. Ortiz is almost 300,000 votes in front of the Yankees' Hideki Matsui at designated hitter.
Daisuke Matsuzaka could start the game, too, though fans don't vote on pitchers. The right-hander was trying to improve to 9-0 Tuesday night in his start against the sinking Seattle Mariners.
Will it be awkward for Red Sox manager Terry Francona to lead all these rivals into Yankee Stadium as the home team while managing the AL on July 15?
"I was going to say 'better,'," Francona joked with a chuckle, a few hours before Boston tried to reclaim the AL East lead in Seattle.
"No, it will be an unbelievable All-Star game to be at. Think of it: the last All-Star game at Yankee Stadium. I can't think too many fans will be excited with a lot of us being in their dugout, but they will do it up right.
"Nah, I'm looking forward to it. It will be pretty special."
Youkilis, who leads Justin Morneau of Minnesota by about 202,000 votes at first base, was out of the lineup for the second consecutive day because of a sore his right hand that first began paining him Sunday night after a game at Oakland. As Francona predicted Monday, Sean Casey made his 18th start of the season at first base Tuesday against Seattle's Miguel Batista.
Youkilis said he had X-rays Monday then proclaimed they showed "nothing." His status is day-to-day.
He and Pedroia, the 2007 AL Rookie of the Year, would be first-time All-Stars.
"There's no getting around it: the Red Sox are popular," Francona said, knowing at least half of the crowds for the first two games of this series have been for the team from the other end of the country.
Hundreds of screaming fans wearing red and blue swarmed the areas along the railing around Boston's dugout in search of pictures and autographs during batting practice Tuesday.
"Our fans are unbelievable. I don't feel I need to apologize for it," Francona said of the voting. "We have good players and passionate fans. With that combination, you are going to see some guys leading All-Star voting."