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All-star Saunders stays hot as Jays rout Tigers

This was Michael Saundersnight, and it was fitting that his dramatic win in the fan generated final vote was shared by countless Canadians who voted in droves to send one of their own to baseball’s midsummer classic in San Diego Tuesday.

Saunders, a native of Victoria, B.C., was announced as the final vote winner, by a landslide at that, with 17.7 million votes since the vote opened Tuesday. By contrast, National League winner Brendan Belt of the San Francisco Giants tallied a little more than 10 million votes.

Saunders’ win was a win for Canadian baseball fans, who have done this sort of thing before, sending former Jays reliever Steve Delabar to the 2013 game.

“I’m very humbled by it,” Saunders said Friday as the Jays swamped Detroit 6-0. “Everyone knows that Canada takes care of their own. I’m Canadian through and through. Just to feel that support, the best way to describe it . . . is I feel loved.”

Saunders, who gave a wave to some 43,228 at the Rogers Centre when the in-house camera ed in on him in the dugout before the game, went 2-for-3 with a walk Friday, with his second hit coming during the Jays’ two-run seventh inning.

Edwin Encarnacion destroyed a Bobby Parnell fastball in that inning for a three-run homer, giving him a major-league-leading 80 RBIs with two games to go before the all-star break. Encarnacion’s 23 homers and .705 slugging percentage are second in baseball, and his power stats after 89 games would mark a good full season for a lot of players.

Only two players in Jays history have had more pre-all-star RBIs — Carlos Delgado with 97, and Vernon Wells with 84, both in 2003.

The 29-year-old Saunders, who has rebounded from a knee injury that ruined his 2015 season, was almost an ex-Jay this spring. Had it not been for a medical issue involving another player, he would have been part of a three-team trade bringing Reds Jay Bruce to Toronto.

Instead, he is headed to career highs with 16 homers — three off his best season — a .302 average and a .937 OPS.

Canadians took to social media, encouraged by a campaign — #VoteCaptainCanada — hatched by the Jays’ marketing department Tuesday when the final vote was unveiled by Major League Baseball.

Michelle Seniuk, manager of promotions and fan activation, said the department also had 5,000 T-shirts printed up, and reached out to both the Giants and Pirates to “twin” campaigns with their candidates (both teams rejected the suggestion). They did get help from the Leafs, Raptors, Toronto FC and the Edmonton Oilers, among others.


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