MIAMI -- Roberto Osuna believes that the Blue Jays can use this break as a platform for a second-half surge toward the American League East crown, as they did two seasons ago. If they do so, the closer says that fellow first-time All-Star Justin Smoak will be a key factor."I'm
MIAMI -- Roberto Osuna believes that the Blue Jays can use this break as a platform for a second-half surge toward the American League East crown, as they did two seasons ago. If they do so, the closer says that fellow first-time All-Star Justin Smoak will be a key factor.
"I'm so happy because he's had some tough years," Osuna said. "Bouncing back like this, making the All-Star Game is huge for us. All year long, he's been unbelievable for us. I'm proud of him and hopefully he can keep continuing in the second half like this."
Smoak will start at first base for the American League in Tuesday's 88th All-Star Game presented by Mastercard, thanks in large part to an extensive "Smoak the Vote" marketing campaign. Smoak ranks sixth in the American League with 23 homers, and will be the first Blue Jays player to start at first base since Carlos Delgado in 2003.
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"It's definitely a dream come true for everybody," Smoak said. "We're excited to be here and try to take it all in."
Easily Toronto's most valuable player through the first three months of the season, Smoak is finally living up to the hype that made him a first-round Draft pick and one of the game's top prospects. Smoak's two-year, $8.5 million extension was widely panned last summer, but now looks like one of the league's best bargains.
"As a young kid, high school, college, even in the Minor Leagues, I never tried to hit home runs," Smoak said. "When I got called up to the big leagues, I wanted to be that power guy, the guy that hit 40 homers. I wanted to be that guy and my swing got long. I tried to do too much. This year, I went in trying to be competitive, just having competitive at-bats and square the ball up. You hit homers not trying to hit them."
Smoak set a new career high in home runs before the end of June, filling the void while the Blue Jays were without key players such as Josh Donaldson, Troy Tulowitzki and Devon Travis. Smoak said that Jose Bautista recently offered a helpful primer on the All-Star scene.
"You're not ready for any of this, you know what I mean?" Smoak said. "This isn't normal. Joey Bats gave me a heads-up of what to expect and things to do. Basically, everybody said take it in as much as you can because it's going to be quick."
Osuna was one of seven injury replacements for the All-Star Game, with the 22-year-old scrapping his travel plans in favor of a trip to Miami. After blowing three saves in four chances to open the season, the native of Juan Jose Rios, Sinaloa, Mexico has converted 21 consecutive opportunities since.
"It means a lot. I grew up as a kid dreaming about it," Osuna said. "Just being in this position right now, it's really exciting. I'm happy to be here right now."
The youngest player in Major League history to reach 75 saves, Osuna already ranks fourth on Toronto's all-time saves list behind Tom Henke, Duane Ward and Billy Koch. He was one of the game's best closers over the last two years, but his performance has risen to another level in 2017.
"He's been that for us the last two years. He's our guy," Smoak said. "That's who he is, and I think playing in Mexico as a young kid in that league prepared him for the big leagues, and prepared him for situations that he was going to be in. The kid's unbelievable. He's one of the better pitchers I've seen at this age."
Tonight at 7:30 ET, tune in to the 2017 All-Star Game presented by Mastercard live on FOX, and during the game visit MLB.com to submit your choice for the Ted Williams Most Valuable Player Award presented by Chevrolet via the 2017 MLB All-Star Game MVP Vote. The 88th All-Star Game, in Miami, will be televised nationally by FOX, in Canada by Rogers Sportsnet and RDS, and worldwide by partners in more than 160 countries via MLB International's independent feed. ESPN Radio and ESPN Radio Deportes will provide national radio coverage of the All-Star Game. MLB.com, MLB Network and SiriusXM will also provide comprehensive All-Star Week coverage. For more information, please visit allstargame.com.
Bryan Hoch has covered the Yankees for MLB.com since 2007. Follow him on Twitter @bryanhoch and on Facebook.