It happens every year, players overcoming seemingly insurmountable deficits and being nudged into the starting lineup of an All-Star Game due to record online-only voting volume in the final week of the largest balloting program in sports.
Last year it happened three times, twice in the National League and once in the American League. Pablo Sandoval of the Giants leapfrogged David Wright of the Mets to start at third base for the NL, something he hopes to do again. Melky Cabrera of the Giants passed Ryan Braun of the Brewers in the NL outfield (both started due to Matt Kemp's injury). Robinson Cano of the Yankees overcame Ian Kinsler of the Rangers to start at second for the AL.
Here we go again. Prepare for the onslaught and the surprises and numerous Twitter hashtag battles, with literal and figurative fireworks certain at the end. As in-stadium Firestone All-Star paper balloting winds up Friday night during the Indians-White Sox doubleheader at U.S. Cellular Field, it all goes digital with the 2013 All-Star Game MLB.com Ballot sponsored by freecreditscore.com.
Voting to decide 17 starters ends at 11:59 p.m. ET on the Fourth of July, with the 84th Midsummer Classic coming on July 16 at Citi Field.
You can submit 25 online ballots during the voting period but also earn a one-time bonus of 10 additional online ballots. To access these additional online ballots, log into an MLB.com account when submitting any online ballot. Register for a free MLB.com account easily just by clicking on the top right of pages here at MLB.com.
This year's record-setting pace on MLB.com and the 30 club sites has seen 275 million votes already cast. In the last week of 2012 balloting, fans voted at an unprecedented rate -- producing three of the four highest one-day totals during the final three days of this process. There were 4.2 million ballots cast on June 28, 3.9 million on June 27, and 2.8 million on June 26. Fans also set a new single-day mark with 42.5 million total votes on June 28.
Look for the same kind of activity this week, as most positional leads are considered too close to call. After all, even leads of a half-million votes are considered "narrow" entering the final week of online-only balloting. Consider:
Wright entered the final week in 2012 with 464,549 more votes than Sandoval. Then Giants fans took over, and that is something for Mets fans to consider strongly now, as Wright was leading Sandoval by 128,831 votes in the latest update -- a slight edge.
In 2011, Tigers catcher Alex Avila overcame Russell Martin in the final week of online-only balloting to win the starting AL spot, and Jose Reyes, then with the Mets, got a final-week surge to leapfrog Troy Tulowitzki.
Dustin Pedroia was nearly 900,000 votes behind Cano of the rival Yankees in the latest AL update, but the Red Sox second baseman is a proven last-week warrior, and there is far more voting volume than when he made his big run last time. In 2009, he trailed Kinsler by 200,238 votes on June 16 and then passed him at the finish to start at St. Louis.
Then there is the big question surrounding Braun, who in recent years has been a face of fan balloting for this event. There have been few late rallies, like the one he staged in 2008, when he went from 10th place in the NL outfield balloting that June 1 to a gradual climb that carried him all the way to No. 2 overall vote-getter in the league. Can he get the late fan bump again?
"It's obviously a huge honor to be elected by the fans," said Orioles first baseman Chris Davis, who has a comfortable lead at his position in the AL and is 376,924 votes behind Tigers third baseman Miguel Cabrera in the race for top overall vote-getter. "The reason we play the game is for the fans, and to know that they want you to be a part of something that means so much to the players, it's a great honor. I think it gives the fans a good chance to get more involved and have some say in an event that is really made for them."
Among races that require hashtag battling in this final week are catcher, second, short and outfield in the AL, and catcher, first, second, third and outfield in the NL.
Both rosters will be unveiled at 6:30 p.m. ET on Saturday, July 6, during the All-Star Game Selection Show on FOX. The AL All-Star Team will have nine elected starters via the fan balloting program, while the NL All-Star Team will have eight fan-elected starters. The pitchers and reserves for both squads (totaling 25 for the NL and 24 for the AL) will be determined through a combination of player ballot choices and selections made by the two All-Star managers -- AL skipper Jim Leyland of the Tigers and NL manager Bruce Bochy of the defending World Series champion Giants.
Immediately following the announcement of the AL and NL All-Star rosters, fans will begin the always-frenetic process of selecting the final player for each league's 34-man roster via the 2013 All-Star Game MLB.com Final Vote Sponsored by freecreditscore.com. Leyland and Bochy, in concert with MLB, will each provide you with five names from which to choose in each league.
Then you vote over a four-day period, and the winners will be announced after balloting concludes on Thursday, July 11. The Final Vote is in its 12th season, with more than 350 million overall votes cast, and once again you can make Final Vote selections on MLB.com, club sites and mobile devices.
The final step in this run of fan balloting will be the Ted Williams All-Star Game Most Valuable Player Award presented by Chevrolet. During the Midsummer Classic, you can vote exclusively online at MLB.com and the 30 club sites via the 2013 All-Star Game MLB.com MVP Vote, and your collective voice will represent 20 percent of the official vote determining this year's recipient of the Arch Ward Trophy.
Fans are also participating in the Home Run Derby Fan Poll. You have the opportunity to select three players in each league whom you would most like to see participate in the Chevrolet Home Run Derby. Part of Gatorade All-Star Workout Day, it will be broadcast live on ESPN, ESPN HD, ESPN Deportes and ESPN Radio in the U.S. beginning at 8 p.m. ET on July 15.
The 84th 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 SiriusXM also will also provide comprehensive All-Star Week coverage. For more information, please visit allstargame.com.
Mark Newman is enterprise editor of MLB.com. Read and join other baseball fans on his MLB.com community blog.