The National League eyes a third straight win over the American League this evening when the respective All-Star teams battle in the 83rd edition of the Midsummer Classic at Kauffman Stadium.
Tonight's contest marks the third time that the All-Star Game has been played in Kansas City, but the first since July 24, 1973, when the NL won, 7-1, at what was then known as Royals Stadium.
That contest also marked the 24th and final All-Star appearance by Hall of Famer Willie Mays.
The other All-Star Game in Kansas City was played at Municipal Stadium on July 11, 1960, won 5-3 by the National League in the first of two All-Star Games played that year (also Yankee Stadium on July 13).
After going 13 straight years without a win, the NL has started to turn the tables on their counterparts and was a 5-1 winner last season thanks in part to a three-run home run from Prince Fielder.
Fielder, of course, now plays in the AL and on Monday picked up his second Home Run Derby crown, edging out Toronto's Jose Bautista, 12-7, in the final round.
Perhaps having Fielder in the lineup will help the AL plate more than one run, something they haven't done in either of the last two games. Remarkably, though, the scores of the previous 82 All-Star Games add up to 344 for the NL and 341 for the AL.
Both managers named their respective starters on Monday.
Former St. Louis skipper Tony LaRussa tabbed San Francisco's Matt Cain, while Texas' Ron Washington went with Detroit ace and reigning AL MVP and Cy Young Award winner
LaRussa, the first inactive All-Star manager since the AL's Bob Lemon in 1979, raised some eyebrows with his selection of Cain rather than New York knuckleballer R.A. Dickey, who is tied for the NL lead with wins and is one of the better stories in baseball this season. Some have speculated that Giants' catcher Buster Posey was not comfortable catching Dickey.
"I'm not the boss," Dickey said. "I don't necessarily have to agree with it, but I certainly have to respect it, and that's the way it is."
Cain was also deserving, as he went 9-3 with a 2.62 earned run average and two shutouts, including the 22nd perfect game in major league history on June 13 against the Houston Astros.
Although the 27-year-old right-hander has been an NL All-Star on two other occasions, he never actually pitched in either contest.
"Those two [All-Star Games] were relaxing. Now this is going to be nerve- wracking," Cain said. "That's all right. I'm excited about that."
Cain is also the second San Francisco hurler to start the All-Star game in the last four years after teammate Tim Lincecum toed the rubber for the National League back in 2009 at Busch Stadium. He's also the sixth Giants pitcher to start an All-Star Game since the team moved to San Francisco in 1958, joining Juan Marichal (1965, '67), Vida Blue ('78), Rick Reuschel ('89), Jason Schmidt (2003) and Lincecum ('09).
"To be able to start the game is going to be a huge honor for me," said Cain.
While some were left scratching their head at LaRussa's choice, you will be hard pressed to find anyone who disagrees with Washington's selection of Verlander.
A 24-game winner last season, Verlander is 9-5 this season with a 2.58 ERA over 18 starts and has five complete games to his name, including one shutout.
Verlander, who is in this game for the fifth time, likely would have been Washington's choice to open last year's contest, but pitched on the Sunday before the game, making him ineligible to go.
"What an honor it is to start my first All-Star Game," Verlander said on Monday. "I've been to a few in the past and some I haven't had the opportunity to pitch like last year and some I've pitched out of the bullpen. But this is something different, and I'm going to relish every moment and hopefully play a part in helping the American league win."
Washington selected Verlander over Chicago's Chris Sale (10-2, 2.19 ERA), last year's starter, Jered Weaver (10-1, 1.96 ERA) of the Angels and Tampa Bay's David Price (11-4, 2.82 ERA).
"He is one of the best pitchers in all of baseball, not just the American League," Washington said of Verlander. "The joy that I have of giving him the ball tomorrow, he's well-rested. I expect a lot out of him, and I know he expects a lot out of himself."
Kenny Rogers was the last Tigers hurler to start the All-Star game when the then 41-year-old lefty stood atop the mound at PNC Park in Pittsburgh back in 2006.
The lineup for the American League will open with a pair of Yankees as Derek Jeter will play shortstop and hit leadoff, followed by teammate Robinson Cano in the two hole, playing second base. Josh Hamilton of the Rangers will play left field and bat third while Bautista hits cleanup and will start in right.
Fielder will hit in the five hole and play first, followed by Adrian Beltre of the Rangers, who will man the hot corner. Boston's David Ortiz will be the designated hitter and hit seventh, Texas catcher Mike Napoli will be behind the plate batting eighth, and Curtis Granderson of the Yankees rounds out the lineup in the ninth spot, playing center field.
Colorado's Carlos Gonzalez will be the designated hitter and get things started at the top of La Russa's lineup, while Giants center fielder Melky Cabrera will hit second.
Milwaukee Brewers left fielder and reigning NL MVP Ryan Braun will hit third and first baseman Joey Votto of the Cincinnati Reds will bat cleanup. Cardinals right fielder Carlos Beltran mans the five hole with Posey hitting sixth.
"It's going to be really cool to have Buster behind the plate catching for me," said Cain of his batterymate.
Posey's teammate, Pablo Sandoval, follows and will play third, while second baseman Dan Uggla of the Atlanta Braves and shortstop Rafael Furcal of the Cardinals will bat eighth and ninth, respectively.
This year's contest will feature 26 first-timers, as well as a record five rookies, most notably Angels' outfielder Mike Trout and 19-year-old Washington phenom Bryce Harper.
Harper, who was born on October 16, 1992, becomes the third youngest major league All-Star ever and the youngest All-Star position player in history. The only two players in baseball history who were younger in a Midsummer Classic were Dwight Gooden (the youngest All-Star ever; born 11/16/64; 1984 All-Star Game was 7/10/84) and Hall of Famer Bob Feller (born 11/3/18; 1938 ASG was 7/6/38).
Previously, the youngest position player in a Midsummer Classic was Minnesota Twins catcher Butch Wynegar (born 3/14/56; 1976 ASG was 7/13/76).
This also marks the 10th straight year that the All-Star Game will determine which league gets home-field advantage in the World Series.
Next year's All-Star Game will be contested at Citi Field in New York.