The stage was set for a frantic and unique finish in the balloting for the 2012 All-Star Game MLB.com Final Vote Sponsored by Firestone, as a new wrinkle was introduced: Twitter voting in the final four hours of balloting Thursday.
Rangers right-hander Yu Darvish and Cardinals third baseman David Freese were leading the American and National League voting as Thursday began. The final results -- and the winners of the last roster spots on each league's All-Star Game rosters -- will be revealed shortly.
Twitter support from fans counted toward the candidates' Final Vote totals until the voting deadline at 4 p.m. ET. Any tweet that included a designated player hashtag will be tabulated as part of the overall vote totals used to determine the winners. Fans were able to follow @MLB on the social networking service for the latest standings updates in advance of the deadline.
Halfway through the four-hour conclusion, the top-five standings for Twitter votes were as follows: 1. #VoteBourn, 2. #FreesePlease, 3. #VoteYu, 4. #TakeJake and 5. #BryceIn12. White Sox right-hander Jake Peavy was continuing to push, with 61 percent more support than Darvish between 1-2 p.m. Braves center fielder Michael Bourn moved from third into second place in the Final Vote standings, drawing 10 percent more support than Freese between 1-2 p.m.
When the day began, the Orioles' Jason Hammel was third in the AL, followed by the Royals' Jonathan Broxton and the Angels' Ernesto Frieri. Nationals rookie sensation Bryce Harper was second in the NL voting, followed by Bourn and D-backs second baseman Aaron Hill.
Here is a closer look at the 2012 candidates:
Michael Bourn, CF, Braves: Bourn, an All-Star in 2010 with Houston, is trying to become the first Braves winner since another center fielder won it 10 years ago: Andruw Jones. On Tuesday, the 2010 All-Star campaigned for himself by going 1-for-3 with two walks, three runs scored and a three-run triple to lead Atlanta to a 10-3 victory over the Cubs.
"Mike Bourn has been our most valuable player this year," said veteran third baseman Chipper Jones, who was originally on the Final Vote ballot but was added to the NL team earlier this week to replace injured Dodgers outfielder Matt Kemp. "He has jump-started our offense time and time again. When he came over to shake my hand to congratulate me, I told him he was coming with me. ... So we've got to get him there."
Said Bourn of the Final Vote race: "I don't know, that's going to be hard. That's a pretty good race. We'll see what happens."
David Freese, 3B, Cardinals: Only David Wright of the Mets has driven in more runs and posted a higher batting average and OPS among NL third basemen. Freese joins Jermaine Dye (2008 White Sox) as the only Final Vote candidates to have a World Series MVP Award on their resumes. He could be the first Cardinal to win a Final Vote; even Albert Pujols was unable to win it, in 2003.
"All day I've been online, voting," Freese joked. "I'm getting a lot of support from a lot of people. ... We're going to have some fun with it and see how it plays out. I wish we all could go, but who knows what will happen?"
Bryce Harper, RF, Nationals: He was 2-for-4 in Washington's victory over San Francisco on Wednesday. The nation's capital has a new campaign on its hands this Fourth of July, and a lot of people are getting involved.
"It's great. Having the fan support and whatnot, and really having them get going for me and vote for me, it's great," Harper said after Wednesday's game. "If I don't make it, it's OK. Hopefully, I've got a few more years to try to make the team. I think the fans are going have a lot of fun up there. That's the biggest thing. It's for the fans. If I don't go, it's not going to hurt at all."
"This guy deserves to go to the All-Star Game, so whatever we've got to do to push him there, we've got to go the extra mile," said his Nationals teammate and 2012 All-Star, Ian Desmond.
Aaron Hill, 2B, D-backs: Even Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald sent out a tweet to his nearly 1.3 million followers on Twitter asking them to vote for Hill, who is trying to become the first middle infielder to win a Final Vote. In the first decade, 10 outfielders, three pitchers, three first basemen, two catchers and two third basemen were chosen.
"I think it's amazing," Hill said. "It really is. It's fun. Obviously you want to be recognized by fans, players and coaches and to get the support and see how many people want to make this happen is a lot of fun to be a part of. I can't wait to see how this is going to turn out."
Jonathan Broxton, RHP, Royals: No Midsummer Classic host has had a Final Vote winner, with D-backs pitcher Ian Kennedy falling short last year in the latest bid.
"If they make a push down there, hopefully they can put my name in the mix," Broxton said, referring to the Braves' participation in their alliance with Kansas City, now him and just Bourn. "We'll just see where it goes."
Yu Darvish, RHP, Rangers: Japanese players have fared well in the Final Vote, with Hideki Matsui of the Yankees winning in 2004 and Hideki Okajima of the Red Sox winning in 2007. The fact that Darvish is even on the ballot speaks volumes for the number of starters and reserves manager Ron Washington already has on his All-Star squad.
"He has a lot of pride and he is very determined," Rangers president and Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan said. "I truly believe he wants to be one of the best pitchers in the Major Leagues. He works very hard and he's focused. That's very positive for somebody who is 25 years old ... or at any age."
Ernesto Frieri, RHP, Angels: At the very least, a lot more people around baseball are going to know about Mike Scioscia's closer. Frieri was a darkhorse candidate, especially with the Halos on the road throughout the Final Vote campaign, but the Angels are back in contention, and his profile will continue to grow.
"The people who are on there are incredible -- Peavy, Broxton," Frieri said. "They're guys who have done things in this game. I'm just starting out. People don't recognize me as much as the others, but I'm just honored to be competing with them, and if they give me a chance, then I'll give it my all [in the All-Star Game]."
Jason Hammel, RHP, Orioles: Baltimore is in playoff contention, and the 6-foot-6 righty is one of the big reasons. Hammel, 8-4, is Baltimore's fourth Final Vote candidate, following Ramon Hernandez in 2006, Brian Roberts in '08 and Adam Jones last year. Hammel's manager, Buck Showalter, said his daughter showed him how to vote for him, and Hammel has made it clear how much it would mean to be an All-Star.
"Obviously it's a tremendous honor just to be in the Final Vote," Hammel said. "You put in a lot of work. It's not just myself. It's a collective effort. ... It would be a nice personal accomplishment, but you still need the team to get to this point."
Jake Peavy, RHP, White Sox: On the same day that Charlie Sheen ordered his 7.6 million followers to vote for Peavy, the White Sox announced that everyone who voted, or had voted for Peavy, automatically would be entered into the 2012 Vote Jake Peavy All-Star Game Final Vote Sweepstakes. Five winners will receive a Peavy autographed prize pack and an additional five winners will receive four game tickets and a parking pass to a White Sox home game. The autographed pack includes a jersey, hat and ball, while the tickets are good for any remaining regular-season home game.
"I would love to go and I would love to take my little boys and have that experience with them as old as they are now," Peavy said. "It would mean so much to go in this uniform after what I've been through here and what everybody has had to endure alongside me. For our fans to push me in, I wouldn't want to go any other way but this way now seeing how it has had to happen."
Last year, Paul Konerko made the White Sox the first team to have three Final Vote winners, following Scott Podsednik in 2005 and A.J. Pierzynski in '06.
The final phase of All-Star Game voting will again have fans participating in the official voting for the Ted Williams All-Star Game Most Valuable Player Award presented by Chevrolet. During the Midsummer Classic, fans will vote exclusively online at MLB.com via the 2012 All-Star Game MLB.com MVP Vote, and their voices will represent 20 percent of the official vote determining the recipient of the Arch Ward Trophy.
The 83rd 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. ESPN Radio and ESPN Radio Deportes will provide national radio coverage of the All-Star Game. MLB Network and Sirius XM will also provide comprehensive All-Star Week coverage. For more information, please visit allstargame.com or royals.com/asg.