Garciaparra leads NL Final Vote race

Garciaparra leads Final Vote race

LOS ANGELES -- Dodgers first baseman Nomar Garciaparra leads a race too close to call midway through voting for the Monster 2006 All-Star Final Vote on

With more than 8 million votes cast since Sunday, Garciaparra holds a narrow advantage for what would be his sixth All-Star berth. The other nominees on the National League side -- Chris Capuano of the Brewers, Bobby Abreu of the Phillies, Billy Wagner of the Mets and Chris Young of the Padres -- all are within striking distance.

In the American League, Francisco Liriano of the Twins leads the group of five candidates for the final roster spot, with a slight lead over A.J. Pierzynski of the White Sox, followed closely by Travis Hafner of the Indians, Justin Verlander of the Tigers and Ramon Hernandez of the Orioles.

Voting continues at a frantic pace until 6 p.m. ET on Thursday exclusively at, as fans decide the 32nd and final roster spot for the National and American League teams that will meet in the 77th All-Star Game on Tuesday in Pittsburgh. More than 3.3 million votes were cast in the first 18 hours of balloting of the fifth annual "anti-snub" process, and the torrid pace continued right through the halfway mark. There is no limit on how many times fans can vote right here or by mobile phone.

In his first year as a first baseman, Garciaparra is among NL batting leaders with a .360 average. He has a 16-game hitting streak and remains among the NL leaders in on-base percentage (.429) and slugging percentage (.588). But Albert Pujols of the Cardinals, Ryan Howard of the Phillies and Lance Berkman of the Astros were standing in his way at first base for the National League.

For Garciaparra, who will be 33 later this month, the honor would be vindication for one of Major League Baseball's most popular and accomplished players of the last decade. A two-time batting champion and five-time All-Star shortstop in Boston, Garciaparra had to look for work last winter when many clubs thought his best days were behind him.

Garciaparra said being voted in by fans would be a special honor.

"I would definitely be thrilled," he said. "I've been lucky. I've played in front of wonderful fans my entire career and I still get to do that."

A native of Southern California, Garciaparra accepted a one-year, incentive-laden contract and the challenge of learning a new position to play at home. He spent the bulk of Spring Training focusing on defense and his bat appeared sluggish. When he suffered a pulled rib-cage muscle the last weekend of spring that put him on the disabled list, it looked like his injury-prone tag would stick.

But Garciaparra returned to action in mid-April with a vengeance and has never cooled off. He's been particularly clutch in late-inning situations and with runners in scoring position, picking up the slack in average and power from Jeff Kent, who started slowly, then got hurt. In short, Garciaparra has dispelled the skeptics by being everything he was at his best in Boston.

And defensively, Garciaparra adjusted to his new role with the same intensity and athleticism that made him a standout shortstop. After some early tutoring by Dodgers coach Eddie Murray, Garciaparra has made only one error at his new position and has saved countless runs with acrobatic saves of errant throws, particularly from struggling shortstop Rafael Furcal. Garciaparra would be the first Dodgers All-Star first baseman since Murray was honored in 1991.

"You can stick all the first basemen in a hat. You see all these great first basemen and all these great players in general at any position, but that's what makes All-Star Games fun, because it's a celebration of this game and the great players that are out there, because there are so many," Garciaparra said. "I don't even worry about [making the team]. ... That doesn't determine whether you're having a good year or not."

Garciaparra is the Dodgers' first Final Vote candidate, and a West Division club has never had a winning Final Vote player.

Last year's Final Vote saw more than 14.8 million votes cast, and the winners were Scott Podsednik of the White Sox and Roy Oswalt of the Astros. Last week, announced that fans had cast more than 11 million ballots in the Monster 2006 All-Star Game Online Ballot which concluded on June 30 that more than 141 million total votes cast in the online program.

Ken Gurnick is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.