PITTSBURGH -- Add another late rally to the list of Tigers victories this year. This win, however, has nothing to do with the standings.
Ivan Rodriguez does not use rally gum, though his combination of hitting and defense gives opponents and fans a lot to chew on. As of Wednesday, however, he appeared headed for a rare vacation over the All-Star break.
Now, not only will Rodriguez be part of next week's All-Star Game, joining teammate Kenny Rogers at the Midsummer Classic, he'll be in the American League starting lineup and the record books.
After weekly vote updates showed him closely trailing Red Sox captain Jason Varitek, a surge in the final days of online balloting apparently pushed Rodriguez into the top spot. Thanks to the balloting, Rodriguez will make his 11th All-Star start behind the plate, surpassing Mike Piazza and Hall of Famer Johnny Bench for the all-time record among catchers.
Rodriguez won the balloting by just 16,842 votes out of the 1,826,720 cast for him, by far the closest of the American League races. He ended up barely beating Joe Mauer, not Varitek. Mauer, buoyed by a marketing campaign launched by the Minnesota Twins, finished with 1,809,878 votes. Varitek fell to third with 1,752,083.
"Thanks to the fans who selected me again," Rodriguez said on Sunday. "It's kind of nice to be part of the All-Star Game again. Last year, it was very nice to play at home, but I was selected by the managers, coaches and players. But this year, I've seen selected by the fans. It's great. I'm going to go there and enjoy it like it's my first time. I look forward to next week to come back here and have fun."
Rodriguez was the AL's starting catcher for nine consecutive seasons with the Rangers. He last started in 2004, his first season back in the American League after signing with Detroit as a free agent. He lost out to Varitek last year, but Rodriguez made the team as a reserve, serving as the lone Tigers representative for the game at Comerica Park.
Rodriguez last year was partly the victim of the Red Sox's success, with Varitek as their captain, and partly the victim of a subpar season by his standards. Conversely, Pudge has been one of the faces of the Tigers franchise and its turnaround to the Majors' best record in 2006. He entered Sunday batting .298 with seven home runs and 38 RBIs, while allowing just half of the 18 baserunners daring enough to run on him to be successful.
That steadiness from a 34-year-old catcher, plus a down first half for Varitek, allowed Rodriguez to regain his customary starting role. He's the first Tiger to make the All-Star team in three consecutive years since Travis Fryman from 1992-94.
As close as it was, Rodriguez didn't notice.
"I have to be honest with you. I didn't even pay attention," he admitted. "I was concentrating on winning games. To be honest, I didn't pay attention until this morning, when [assistant general manager Al] Avila and the skipper told me I made the game as a starter. It was a good morning."
It would've been better, he said, if he had more teammates joining him. Only one pitcher made the All-Star team from a Tigers pitching staff that leads the AL in ERA by better than two-thirds of a run. The bright spot is that it was probably the most deserving pick.
While Rodriguez has been the face of the franchise, Rogers has been at the center of its breakthrough season, going 10-3 with a 3.72 ERA so far this season. The 41-year-old left-hander, the oldest player on either roster this year, was the American League's first 10-game winner this year.
Rogers made the All-Star team for the third consecutive year and the fourth time overall. Rogers will be the first Tigers pitcher at the All-Star Game since Todd Jones in 2000. No Tigers starting pitcher had made the All-Star team since Justin Thompson in 1997.
"To be honest with you, with the exception of [Mike] Maroth, who's been hurt, and [Zach] Miner, who hasn't been here, any one of our starting pitchers could've made it," Leyland said. "We even had a couple relievers who could've made it. I'm just so proud for Kenny."
Rogers finished fourth in player balloting for starting pitchers. Jose Contreras, Roy Halladay and Johan Santana took the top three spots. Tampa Bay's Scott Kazmir earned the fifth and final spot.
Asked if it was a humbling honor for him, Rogers said, "Me still being here humbles me. Anything like this, you enjoy. You try to savor all the moments like this, especially down the road. But right now, I'm extremely proud of it in different ways. But it's also disappointing that I don't have a few other guys going with me from the staff."
He was the center of attention at the All-Star Game last year in the weeks following his much-publicized confrontation with a television cameraman. He was booed during pregame introductions at Comerica Park and upon his entrance into the game. The only cheers he heard came when he gave up hits. Now representing Detroit, he should receive a much warmer reception in Pittsburgh, having taken advantage of a fresh start.
"This year, I hope I can have a little more fun," he said, smiling. "I can stay under the radar."
Among the other Tigers who won't join in the fun are position players Magglio Ordonez and Carlos Guillen and relievers Joel Zumaya and Fernando Rodney. With manager Ozzie Guillen naming three other White Sox players to the squad, Chicago will have at least six players on the roster. Even if Justin Verlander wins the All-Star Final Vote contest, Detroit would have half as many players as the team it leads in the AL Central standings.
By comparison, last year's White Sox -- who had the Majors' best record at the break -- had four players on the squad, including Final Vote winner Scott Podsednik.
Ordonez, whose relationship with his former manager has been lukewarm at times, shrugged it off.
"It's not that I don't want to go," he said. "It's just [that] I don't care. There's a lot of outfielders that have good numbers. There's a lot of outfielders to choose from."
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