Tuesday, July 10, 2007

SAN FRANCISCO — Baseball fans have come to learn the name Jake Peavy over the last several years, recognizing the San Diego Padres right-hander as one of the best young pitchers in the game.

Dan Haren? Few outside of Oakland, Calif., even would know he pitches for the Athletics.

His days of obscurity are about to be over. Named by American League manager Jim Leyland to start tonight’s All-Star Game against the National League’s Peavy, Haren will have the whole baseball world watching him for the first time.

“I had been always kind of under the radar,” the 26-year-old said. “Now that I’m in the limelight so to speak, at least for the next couple of days, I’m just going to try to have as much fun as I can.”

Haren may not be well known, but he was worthy of this honor. The right-hander is 10-3 with a 2.30 ERA that tops the AL. And because he calls nearby Oakland his home, Leyland felt the man traded three years ago by St. Louis for Mark Mulder deserved to start tonight’s game over the likes of Justin Verlander, Johan Santana and Josh Beckett.

“I had our PR guy going through all kinds of different statistical numbers over the past three or four weeks,” Leyland said. “And I felt that Danny’s numbers certainly should give him the right to start this game. And I would be lying if I said it wasn’t a nice extra touch since he pitches right across the Bay here in this area.”

Peavy, too, earned this honor by virtue of his 9-3 record and 2.19 ERA for the Padres. The 26-year-old has been San Diego’s ace for four seasons now, but a sore shoulder hampered him throughout 2006 and left him with uncharacteristic numbers (11-14, 4.09 ERA).

Healthy again, Peavy has become perhaps the most dominant starter in the NL (for 2½ months, the only team to beat him this year was the Washington Nationals). Known for the competitive fire he often displays on the mound, Peavy promises to give all he’s got in tonight’s exhibition.

“I can’t promise you I’ll yell tomorrow night, but I’ll be competing,” he said. “This is a ballgame. We’re ballplayers. We strap it on, man.”

A-Rod giving it a go

Though he has been bothered by a strained hamstring for several days, Alex Rodriguez said he hopes to start tonight for the AL.

The New York Yankees slugger, who leads the majors with 30 homers and 86 RBI at the break, is due to hit cleanup. He planned to test his hamstring during batting practice last night before deciding for sure if he can go.

“Today will be a key day,” he said earlier in the afternoon. “I’ll get back and give it a stab tomorrow.”

Rodriguez led all All-Star ballots with nearly 3.9 million fan votes.

“I know that he wants to play, and I certainly appreciate that,” Leyland said. “But I’ll be careful with everybody’s players and everybody’s pitchers, and I certainly will not do anything foolish.”

One-sided affair

The NL enters tonight’s game having failed to win the last 10 Midsummer Classics. The AL is 9-0-1 since 1997, including the infamous tie game in 2002.

Added emphasis has been placed on winning since 2003, when the victorious league was granted home field advantage in the World Series.

So is the AL really that much better than the NL?

“I don’t buy that,” Leyland said. “As I said on the telephone the other day, we talked about dominating in the American League. We didn’t dominate in the World Series last year. I can tell you that firsthand.”

Leyland’s Tigers, overwhelming favorites to beat the St. Louis Cardinals, lost the series in five games.

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