World Dominates Futures Game

SAN FRANCISCO–When the World team has won in the All-Star Futures Game, it has usually done so with dominant pitching, and its 2007 victory at AT&T Park was no exception. But this year’s squad added potent offense as well, scoring in five of seven innings to come away with a 7-2 win.

The World pitching staff struck out 10 and allowed six hits to keep the U.S. offense in check most of the day. The only bright spots for the U.S. were solo home runs by Diamondbacks outfielder Justin Upton in the third (off the White Sox’ Fautino de los Santos) and Rangers third baseman John Whittleman in the fifth (off the Mets’ Deolis Guerra).

The U.S. lineup had plenty of strong hitters, but they didn’t get many good swings off World pitchers. Jacoby Ellsbury, who led off and played the entire game in left field for the U.S., and Ian Stewart, who batted cleanup as the DH, both finished the game 0-for-4.

“Where the World pitching was real disappointing last year, it was completely different this year,” one veteran scout said. “We didn’t really see anything spectacular defensively on that side because the pitching was so dominant.”

Ellsbury, who just returned from his first big league stint with the Red Sox, didn’t hit a ball out of the infield and struck out twice. He said the pitchers he saw on the World staff compared favorably to the big league pitching he just faced.

“They were solid,” he said. “I faced four different guys leading off innings, and I didn’t know what they were going to throw. They all threw very well. They all have big league stuff.”

Cardinals catcher Bryan Anderson saw several good pitchers on the U.S. staff while behind the plate, and struck out and hit a ball to first base in his two at-bats. He echoed Ellsbury’s thoughts.

“My first at-bat, the guy (Carlos Carrasco) threw a bunch of changeups,” Anderson said. “You’re up there thinking this is an all-star type of game and he’s going to come after you, but he doubled up on changeups, then threw me a fastball away, and then threw me a changeup away (for the strikeout).

“All the pitchers I saw were pretty impressive. (U.S. starter) Jeff Niemann was pretty good, really good stuff, but everyone I caught today was really impressive, and the World team guys obviously were too. I’m surprised there were four home runs with all the good pitching there was.”

World batters provided plenty of offense to back up the pitching. Their seven runs tied the all-time high for the World squad, matching the total the Alfonso Soriano-led group scored in the first Futures Game.

Mariners outfielder Michael Saunders led the game off with a single, then stole second for a go-go offense under manager Juan Marichal. The World team stole four bases on five attempts in the first three innings.

Saunders scored the game’s first run on a double by Dodgers shortstop Chin-Lung Hu, who won the Larry Doby Award as the game’s MVP. Hu also scored a run in the first on a sacrifice fly from Mariners outfielder Wladimir Balentien, staking the World team to a 2-0 lead. Hu said he will send the trophy back to his family in Taiwan.

“It’s a real honor to be named the MVP, and I’m glad I represented the Dodgers very well,” Hu said. “It’s an honor to be here with all these great players. Anyone could have won the award. I am thankful to win it, and my family will be very proud.”

Hu said he wasn’t surprised to find out that Yankees righthander and countryman Chien-Ming Wang tossed 6 1/3 scoreless innings against the Angels on the same afternoon.

“I always play well when he pitches well,” he said. “It’s funny, but it’s true. Whenever he pitches well, I wind up having a very good day.”

Hu followed his double with a single in the third that also plated Saunders, giving him two RBIs as well as a stolen base and stretching the World lead to 3-0 before Upton’s home run in the bottom of the inning.

After de los Santos struck out Ellsbury on three pitches to start the bottom of the third–two 93-94 mph fastballs and a dirty slider–Upton stood in. He turned de los Santos’ fastball around, hitting a line-drive homer to left on the first pitch he saw: a 96-mph inside fastball.

“He can get around on anything,” said World coach and Double-A Jacksonville manager John Shoemaker, who has been watching Upton hit a lot of homers for Mobile in the Southern League. “He struggles with good breaking balls, but he can hit the fastball anywhere in the zone.”

It wasn’t Upton’s first home run in a major league ballpark; he also hit one at Chase Field in Phoenix in the last game of spring training. He downplayed his rocket blast, which got out of AT&T Park in a big hurry: “I thought I caught most of it.”

The World team came right back to score another run in the top of the fourth, with DH Max Ramirez of the Indians leading off with a double and scoring on a single from Blue Jays catcher Robinzon Diaz.

Whittleman’s solo shot followed in the fifth, but the U.S. team was never able to mount a significant rally in the game, with just one inning with more than one hit.

“The stock of guys here is unbelievable,” Whittleman said. “Guys like Justin Upton, Jay Bruce . . . all the guys here are great players. To be in the same game with them is unbelievable, and to hit a home run puts it on a totally different level.”

Whittleman also had hit a home run in a big league ballpark before, though it was with aluminum during a high school tournament at Minute Maid Park in Houston.

“It was an unreal feeling, just surreal when it happened,” he said. “I didn’t even feel the ball come off the bat.”

The World team made sure no comeback was in the offing when Reds first baseman Joey Votto hit a solo home run to lead off the sixth, and Astros outfielder James Van Ostrand did the same to lead off the seventh. The final World run came when Tigers outfielder Gorkys Hernandez walked and scored on Balentien’s double.

All nine pitchers on the World staff got into the game, and they all brought plenty of heat. The hardest throwers on the World staff were de los Santos and Rockies righthander Franklin Morales, who both hit 97 mph on the stadium radar gun.

The fastest pitch in the game, however, came from Yankees righthander Joba Chamberlain, who touched 100 mph and sat at 96-97 in his inning of work. Niemann, who took the loss, touched 97, and Dodgers lefthander Clayton Kershaw sat at 94-96.

“It seems like if you don’t throw 92 to 96 you can’t get a ticket for this thing,” a veteran scout from an American League club said. “Morales had easy velocity, probably the best velocity we saw all day.

“Two balls left the park, but this is the Futures Game’"you want to see guys challenge with the fastball. But all those guys’"Morales, (World starter Rick) Vanden Hurk, Carrasco, (Giants righthander Henry) Sosa, de los Santos’"they all showed the rest of the minor leagues what to do to get here: throw in the mid-to-upper 90s and have some pretty darned good offspeed stuff. They all did it today.”

Contributing: Jim Callis, Chris Kline, John Manuel.