In a baseball season packed with surprises, National League manager Tony La Russa delivered another one today by naming San Francisco Giants right-hander Matt Cain the starter in the All-Star game.
Cain received the call over New York Mets knuckleballer RA Dickey, whose emergence as a Major League Baseball (MLB) All-Star at the age of 37 was one of the season's feel-good stories.
But La Russa hinted he would rather have starting catcher Buster Posey open the game with Cain, his Giants team mate, and have back-up Yadier Molina, a better defensive player, work with Dickey's hard-to-catch knuckler later in the game.
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," said La Russa. "That's something special. But I don't think it detracts at all from RA's accomplishments and being here.
"Whenever he pitches, it's going to be a great event for him and for baseball and for ourselves."
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 pre-game talk centered on La Russa's decision to start Cain, who has a 9-3 record, a 2.62 earned run average (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.
Dickey, who learned to toss the knuckler as a way to stay in the majors, said he learned he was not the starter in a text message from a friend.
"It's sad and disappointing about the start," he said. "Any competitor would want to start against the best players in the world. That's why you play.
"But coming in the middle of the game, I'm still going to be playing against the best. And it's still going to be a valuable inning. We're playing for home-field advantage.
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."
Baseball has seen a lot of strange things this season, like the Washington Nationals and Pittsburgh Pirates, two once-proud franchises that have fallen on hard times, leading their respective divisions.
The Nationals have three players on the N.L. squad, including 19-year-old outfielder Bryce Harper, the youngest position player ever to be named to the All-Star game.
"It's an exciting time, being around the best players in baseball," said Harper, one of five rookies named to the All-Star game. "It's great to be here.
"I'm going to take in all in and enjoy it as much as I can. It's a blessing. I'm just having a lot of fun."
The National League is riding a two-game winning streak and has a 42-38 all-time record, with two ties.