Few pitchers in Major League history have matched the recent feats notched by Justin Verlander and Matt Cain. Now the two right-handers can add "All-Star Game starting pitcher" to their string of achievements.
American League manager Ron Washington tabbed Verlander as his starter for tonight's Midsummer Classic at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City. Verlander's first-half numbers (9-5, 2.58 ERA, 128 strikeouts) pale in comparison to the statistics he compiled a year ago, though that says more about his masterful 2011 campaign than it does about the season he's currently piecing together. The 29-year-old won both the AL Cy Young Award and Most Valuable Player Award last season after posting a 24-5 record, 2.40 ERA and 250 strikeouts.
Verlander might have earned the starting nod for last season's All-Star Game as well, but he toed the rubber in Detroit's final game of the first half, making him ineligible to pitch against the NL two days later. This time, he'll have plenty of rest, since Verlander hasn't taken the hill since Wednesday. In that outing, he limited the Twins to one run on four hits in his fifth complete game of the season.
"What an honor it is to start my first All-Star Game," Verlander said at an Arrowhead Stadium news conference 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."
A five-time All-Star, Verlander has twice pitched in the game, but he has never started. In 2007, Verlander served up a triple to Carlos Beltran, who scored on a sacrifice fly by Ken Griffey Jr. In 2010, Verlander tossed a scoreless inning, striking out Brewers teammates Ryan Braun and Corey Hart.
This season, Verlander has been a constant in a shaky Tigers rotation. His ERA is nearly two runs lower than any other Detroit starter.
Washington selected Verlander over the likes of the White Sox Chris Sale (10-2, 2.19 ERA), the Angels' Jered Weaver (10-1, 1.96 ERA) 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."
NL skipper Tony La Russa threw a bit of a knuckleball and chose Cain over Mets right-hander R.A. Dickey (12-1, 2.40 ERA). Other contenders were Washington's Stephen Strasburg (9-4, 2.82 ERA, 11.6 strikeouts per nine innings) and Gio Gonzalez (12-3, 2.92 ERA).
"I know Dickey's going to play," La Russa said. "I'm very aware of the first half he's had. The one edge that I thought made sense, we've got Buster [Posey] catching and Matt is equally legitimate as far as getting the honor. And then we're just going to play the game. I can't bet you Dickey will come out in the second or fourth, I just know he's going to pitch in the first half of the game."
Cain, 27, submitted the 22nd perfect game in Major League history at AT&T Park on June 13 against the Astros. His perfecto was the first in franchise history, and his 14 strikeouts tied Sandy Koufax's 1965 record for the most in a perfect game.
That outing came amid a stretch of eight consecutive starts in which Cain recorded a victory. Overall, the three-time All-Star is 9-3 with a 2.62 ERA, and he has tallied 118 punchouts in 120 1/3 innings. Cain has carried the Giants' rotation while Tim Lincecum (3-10, 6.42 ERA) continues to search for consistency. San Francisco's first-round selection in the 2002 First-Year Player Draft, Cain did not pitch the two previous times he was a part of the NL All-Star roster.
Both All-Star starting pitchers have found success at Kauffman Stadium. In 13 career outings at the ballpark of the Royals, Verlander is 9-2 with a 1.83 ERA. In Cain's only appearance in Kansas City, he pitched eight innings in a Giants victory.
The 83rd Major League Baseball All-Star Game will be televised nationally by FOX Sports, in Canada by Rogers Sportsnet and RDS, and worldwide by partners in more than 200 countries via MLB International's independent feed. Pregame ceremonies begin at 7:30 p.m. ET/6:30 CT. ESPN Radio and ESPN Radio Deportes will provide exclusive national radio coverage. MLB Network, MLB.com and Sirius XM also will provide comprehensive All-Star Game coverage.
Fans will also have the opportunity to participate in the official voting for the Ted Williams Most Valuable Player presented by Chevrolet via the 2012 MLB.com All-Star Game MVP Vote during the All-Star Game on MLB.com.