In a baseball season packed with surprises, National League manager Tony La Russa delivered another one Monday by naming Giants right-hander Matt Cain the starter in tonight’s All-Star Game.
Cain received the call over New York Mets knuckleballer R.A. Dickey, whose emergence as an All-Star at the age of 37 was one of the season’s feel-good stories.
La Russa hinted he would rather have starting catcher Buster Posey open the game with Cain, his Giants teammate, and have backup Carlos Ruiz, a better defensive player, work with Dickey’s hard-to-catch knuckler later in the game.
Cain, a three-time All-Star, said the game would “be huge for me and cool for me.”
“To be able to start the game is going to be a huge honor for me,” he said. “I’m really, really excited about it, and I’m just going to try to take it as a normal start, do my normal thing, but I’m looking forward to it.
“It’s going to be really, really cool to be able to have Buster behind the plate catching me, as well. Hopefully we can get into a groove.”
La Russa, who left baseball after managing the St. Louis Cardinals to last year’s World Series, said Dickey coming off the bench was not a slight.
“I do think there is an extra plus to being the starter to the National League or the American League,” La Russa said. “That’s something special. But I don’t think it detracts at all from R.A.’s accomplishments and being here.”
American League manager Ron Washington of the Texas Rangers named Detroit Tigers right-hander Justin Verlander his starter for the 83rd Midsummer Classic at Kauffman Stadium.
The winner will have the home-field advantage in the World Series, a fact not lost on La Russa, whose Cardinals won the 2011 Fall Classic in seven games.
But much of the pregame talk centered on La Russa’s decision to start Cain, who has a 9-3 record, a 2.62 ERA and tossed baseball’s 22nd perfect game in June.
Dickey, making his first All-Star appearance after 10 years in the majors, has better numbers with a 12-1 record and a 2.40 ERA. The hard-luck Tennessee native also overcame sexual abuse as a youth and arm problems just as he was entering the professional ranks.
The National League is riding a two-game winning streak and has a 42-38 all-time record, with two ties.