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Pitchers dominate Futures Game as U.S. wins

See Also:
Futures Game notebook
Alan Schwarz: Player poll
Will Lingo: Growth continues

By Jim Callis
July 11, 2004

HOUSTON—Welcome to the Futures Game, David Wright.

His .351-16-52 first half earned the Mets third baseman a trip to Houston, where he faced Felix Hernandez (Mariners), Jose Capellan (Braves) and Merkin Valdez (Giants). All three touched 97 mph, with Capellan reaching 98. Wright went 1-for-3, striking out on a Hernandez curveball, singling against Capellan and grounding out versus Valdez.

"Those guys speak for themselves," said Wright, a leading contender for the 2004 Minor League Player of the Year award. "Those guys were pumping up fastballs in the mid-90s, and they all had a big curveball or a sharp slider. Those three might be the best three pitchers I've faced in my career.

"It's good to put the faces with the names. You read about them, and it's good meeting them. I just hope I don't have to see them too often in the future."

Wright wasn't alone in seeing a steady diet of quality pitching. Many of the minors league's best arms were on hand for the Futures Game, and they overmatched the hitters even more than the final score would indicate—4-3 in favor of the United States.

"The pitching was definitely dominating," Dodgers catcher Koyie Hill said. "That's as many swings and misses and soft-hit balls as you'll see from these hitters. To see that kind of stuff as consistently as we did today was very impressive.

"The future of baseball, as far as pitching goes, definitely is in good hands."

Along with Wright, Dallas McPherson (Angels) is one of the two best third-base prospects in the minors. He left Houston with two strikeouts in two at-bats, whiffing on a curveball from Jeff Francis (Rockies) and a 98 mph fastball from Capellan. And he had a blast.

"I had never heard of Capellan before this game," McPherson said. "It looked like he was 89-90 in warmups, then he's 96 with his first pitch, and I'm like, 'Whoa, where'd that come from?' That's what you get in a game like this. It's the most talented guys in the minors. Guys are here for a reason.

"We're going to have to learn to hit that kind of pitching when we get to the major leagues. It was still a great experience. I had a lot of fun."

All three offensive rallies—two-run outbursts by the United States in the third and fifth, and a three-run last gasp by the World in the seventh and final inning—were aided by catchable fly balls that outfielders couldn't make plays on. If not for the shaky defense, the Futures Game might have seen its first scoreless tie.

Despite playing in hospitable Minute Maid Park, batters managed just 11 hits (including just three doubles, two of which could have been caught) and struck out 17 times.

"There were some great arms out there, but those kids also knew what they were doing," U.S. manager Rich Gossage said. "I couldn't believe it. They just kept coming right on down the line."

Joe Blanton (Athletics) and Francis set the tone with a scoreless first inning. Blanton concluded the top of the first by striking out Mariners outfielder Shin-Soo Choo looking with a 94 mph heater, while Francis finished off a perfect bottom half by fanning Devil Rays shortstop B.J. Upton with a 90 mph fastball and then McPherson.

Tim Stauffer (Padres) and Hernandez traded 1-2-3 second innings before John Danks (Rangers) got into a bases-loaded jam in the third. But after two infield singles and an error put him in trouble, Danks escaped by getting Choo to ground out.

Wil Ledezma (Tigers) would have kept the zeroes coming had Choo not misplayed an Upton pop fly with two on and two out in the bottom of the third. Choo circled the ball before it clanked off his glove, allowing both runners to score. "I just missed the play," Choo said.

Clint Everts (Expos), Bill Murphy (Marlins) and Bryan Bullington (Pirates) carried the shutout through the sixth. Meanwhile, the United States doubled its lead to 4-0 in the fifth on Blue Jays shortstop Aaron Hill's double, which left fielder Jorge Cortes (Pirates) could have grabbed had he gotten a better jump.

Hill was the last player added to the Futures Game rosters. Fellow Blue Jays shortstop Russ Adams originally was slated to attend before a sore rib cage forced him to bow out.

"They were like, 'Hey, congratulations—you're going to the Futures Game. I'm like, 'You serious? It's like three days from now.' But I had no questions, no complaints."

Hill soaked up the entire experience, playing in a big league stadium for the second time in his life (he played in a summer league game at SkyDome as a high schooler) and taking pregame infield with Hall of Famer Ozzie Smith. He also left with the MVP award, joining a distinguished class that also includes Alfonso Soriano, Sean Burroughs and Jose Reyes.

The World nearly tied the game in the seventh, thanks to two walks by Matt Cain (Giants) sandwiched around a double by catcher Robinzon Diaz (Blue Jays). Diaz' drive to the right-center field gap fell out of the reach of Val Majewski (Orioles), normally a corner outfielder but pressed into duty in center for the United States.

But the parade of arms kept on coming. Gossage called for Gavin Floyd (Phillies), who yielded an RBI single to Cubs center fielder Felix Pie (Cubs) and a run-scoring groundout to Yankees second baseman Robinson Cano. After throwing a wild pitch that plated a third run and brought the tying run to third base, Floyd struck out Twins first baseman Justin Morneau on a curveball.

Though Morneau is one of the minors' most dangerous hitters, he went 0-for-4 with two strikeouts. Add him to the list of onlookers who was overwhelmed by the Futures Game pitching.

"They must have been pretty good. They got me out four times," he said with a smile. "Everyone here's got a good arm or they wouldn't be here. Sometimes as a hitter when you're in that situation, you try to do too much."

Gossage then went to his bullpen a final time, bringing in Kyle Sleeth (Tigers). Sleeth preserved the win by getting Braves third baseman Andy Marte to ground out to Aaron Hill.

"That was pretty interesting, considering it was the first time I had ever closed in my life," said Sleeth, the third overall pick in the 2003 draft. "We were going to evenly split up that inning anyway, so I knew I was going to come on for the last out. I just didn't know the tying run would be on third base."

Gossage was just glad he had more quality arms to turn too. He said he couldn't explain why, but he was more nervous participating in nine All-Star Games than he was in three World Series. When the World started to come back, he said his competitive juices started to boil over.

"To be able to go in there and get Floyd and Sleeth, those are great arms," Gossage said. "I was very impressed with the pitching on both sides.

Box Score
TEAM   1 2 3 4 5 6 7    R  H  E
World  0 0 0 0 0 0 3    3  5  2
U.S.   0 0 2 0 2 0 x    4  6  1

WORLD                   AB  R  H BI BB SO
W.Tavares (HOU) CF       2  0  0  0  0  0
 F.Pie (CHC) CF          1  0  1  1  1  0
R.Gotay (KC) 2B          1  0  0  0  1  1
 R.Cano (NYY) 2B         2  0  0  1  0  0
J.Morneau (MIN) 1B       4  0  0  0  0  2
E.Encarnacion (CIN) 3B   2  0  2  0  0  0
 A.Marte (ATL) 3B        2  0  0  0  0  0 - E
S.Choo (SEA) RF          3  0  0  0  0  1 - E
T.Blanco (CIN) DH        2  0  0  0  0  2
 J.Cota (ARZ) DH         1  0  0  0  0  1
J.Cortes (PIT) LF        2  1  0  0  1  1
D.Navarro (NYY) C        2  0  0  0  0  0
 R.Diaz (TOR) C          1  1  1  0  0  0 - 2B
J.Guzman (LA) SS         2  0  1  0  0  1
 A.Blanco (KC) SS        0  1  0  0  1  0
TOTALS                  27  3  5  2  4  9

U.S.                    AB  R  H BI BB SO
C.Burke (HOU) 2B         2  1  1  0  0  0
 R.Weeks (MIL) 2B        1  0  0  0  0  0
B.Upton (TB) SS          2  0  0  0  0  1
 A.Hill (TOR) SS         1  0  1  2  0  0 - 2B (MVP)
D.McPherson (ANA) DH     2  0  0  0  0  2
 M.Aubrey (CLE) DH       1  0  0  0  0  1
P.Fielder (MIL) 1B       3  0  1  0  0  1
D.Wright (NYM) 3B        3  0  1  0  0  1 - E
K.Hill (LA) C            2  0  0  0  0  0 - GDP
 J.Mathis (ANA) C        1  0  0  0  0  1
J.Reed (SEA) CF          1  0  0  0  0  0
 C.Jackson (ARZ) LF      1  1  1  0  0  0 - 2B
J.Kubel (MIN) LF/RF      2  2  1  0  0  0
D.Young (TB) RF          1  0  0  0  0  1
 V.Majewski (BAL) CF     1  0  0  0  0  0
TOTALS                  24  4  6  2  0  8

WORLD                  IP  H  R ER BB  K
J.Francis (COL)       1.0  0  0  0  0  2
F.Hernadez (SEA)      1.0  1  0  0  0  1
W.Ledezma (DET) - L   1.0  2  2  0  0  1
J.Capellan (ATL)      1.0  1  0  0  0  2
A.Munoz (CWS)         0.1  1  2  0  0  0
Y.Petit (NYM)         0.2  1  0  0  0  1
M.Valdez (SF)         0.2  0  0  0  0  0
J.Garcia (OAK)        0.1  0  0  0  0  1
TOTALS                6.0  6  4  0  0  8

U.S.                   IP  H  R ER BB  K
J.Blanton (OAK)       1.0  1  0  0  1  1
T.Stauffer (SD)       1.0  0  0  0  0  2
J.Danks (TEX) - W     1.0  2  0  0  0  1
C.Everts (MON)        1.0  0  0  0  0  1
B.Murphy (FLA)        1.0  0  0  0  1  2 - WP
B.Bullington (PIT)    1.0  0  0  0  0  1
M.Cain (SF)           0.0  1  3  3  2  0
G.Floyd (PHI)         0.2  1  0  0  0  1 - WP
K.Sleeth (DET) - SV   0.1  0  0  0  0  0
TOTALS                7.0  5  3  3  4  9

T-2:08. A-34,556.

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