ST. PETERSBURG — Baseball's All-Star Game is, like it or not, played to win. And that, more than anything, explains the selection of Ben Zobrist on Saturday as the lone Ray on the American League squad for the July 16 game.
With no Rays voted in by fans or players, it was up to AL/Detroit manager Jim Leyland to pick a Tampa Bay representative. Leyland bypassed third baseman Evan Longoria and starter Matt Moore to pick Zobrist, whose versatility at the plate and on the field makes him a bench asset.
"I think Ben Zobrist is a very, very, very good player," Leyland said in Cleveland. "He happens to be able to play everywhere, and he's a switch-hitter."
Zobrist, who has had an inconsistent season (.264 with five homers and 44 RBIs) said he was confused when summoned to manager Joe Maddon's office before the game against the White Sox and then honored by his second All-Star selection.
"I'm shocked," he said. "I really didn't expect it. It feels great. It's a huge honor to be selected. … I really think of other guys before myself on this team that I feel like are more deserving, but I feel like this is probably one of those cases where my versatility is giving me an opportunity here."
Maddon said he could see why Zobrist was chosen, given the numerous ways he can help a team win, and was pleased with the pick, as much because Zobrist didn't have the obvious stats. "I really love the fact from the perspective that here's a complete ballplayer making the All-Star team; it's not about his batting average," Maddon said.
It was also interesting that Leyland chose Zobrist given last Sunday's game between the teams. Zobrist was hit by a pitch intentionally by Detroit's Rick Porcello, who was later suspended, in retaliation for close Rays pitches to Miguel Cabrera the night before.
"I find a lot of humor in the selection based on that," Zobrist said. "I can't wait to talk to Mr. Leyland and thank him for a couple different things."
Longoria seemed the likely Rays representative based on his statistics: .292 with a team-high 17 homers and 49 RBIs. But it appeared Leyland — who already had two third basemen in starter Cabrera and Manny Machado, and opted for three catchers by adding Jason Castro as the lone Astro — wanted versatility. So he added Cleveland's Jason Kipnis along with Zobrist.
Moore also seemed worthy — he got his 12th win in Saturday's 3-0 shutout of Chicago — but wasn't one of the nine starters picked. He could be added as a replacement. If not, it will be the first time since 2007 only one Ray goes.