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Leyja unlikely hero for West All-Stars
A's prospect hits two-run homer off the bench in 8-3 victory
06/22/2011 12:24 AM ET
Nino Leyja had not homered in 343 at-bats since July 1, 2010.
Nino Leyja had not homered in 343 at-bats since July 1, 2010. (Paul R. Gierhart/MiLB.com)
DAVENPORT, Iowa -- On the face of it, Nino Leyja doesn't really look like All-Star material.

The A's farmhand is hitting .234 for the Burlington Bees, has not homered during the regular season and has committed 18 errors at second base.

But there he was playing in the Midwest League All-Star Game on Tuesday night. And producing.

Leyja slugged a two-run homer in the sixth inning and Western Division pitchers dominated Eastern Division hitters most of the night en route to an 8-3 victory at scenic Modern Woodmen Park.

Leyja was the unlikely winner of the Top Star Award. And while he said it wasn't quite "absolutely amazing, it definitely was gratifying. "It means a lot," he admitted, moments before West Division teammate Mike Walker of the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers mashed a shaving cream pie into his face.

"I just went up there to have some fun," Leyja said of his homer. "It's my first of the year, but it doesn't count [in the stats]."

A 15th-round pick in the 2008 Draft, Leyja has hit only five homers in three-plus Minor League seasons. And he wasn't really trying to hit one when he faced South Bend Silver Hawks southpaw David Holmberg with one out and one on and the West clinging to a 1-0 lead in the sixth.

"Really, there wasn't too much thought at all put into that at-bat," Leyja said. "I don't swing for the fences. I'm not a power hitter."

One thing the West did have was power pitchers. Fourteen hurlers combined for 14 strikeouts, including nine over the first five innings. The West did not encounter any trouble until the seventh.

"I've faced all these pitchers all season, so I knew what we had," said West manager Johnny Rodriguez of the Quad Cities River Bandits. "I knew we had an awful lot of really good pitchers."

"We didn't really talk too much about what we were going to do," added Clinton LumberKings left-hander James Paxton, who fanned two of the three batters he faced in a scoreless third. "We were just all going to go out there and throw our stuff."

The West hit just one ball out of the infield until the fourth, when Timber Rattlers designated hitter Chris Dennis went the opposite way with a pitch from Dayton's Daniel Corcino and deposited it onto the grassy berm beyond the left-field fence to make it 1-0.

The West reserves padded that lead in the sixth as the 175-pound Leyja hammered his two-run shot to almost the same spot as Dennis' blast. Walker singled, advanced when Peoria Chiefs catcher Micah Gibbs was hit by a pitch and scored on a fielder's choice by Quad Cities' Starlin Rodriguez.

The East avoided the shutout in the seventh as Argenis Martinez of the Lake County Captains singled home Michael Crouse of the Lansing Lugnuts, who doubled off the left-field fence. Rymer Liriano of the Fort Wayne TinCaps came home moments later when Leyja, playing the relatively unfamiliar position of third base, booted his slow grounder.

The West responded in the eighth against Bowling Green Hot Rods righty Eliazor Suero. After Walker walked, Gibbs, Rodriguez and Burlington's Douglas Landaeta singled. One out later, Peoria's Elliot Soto delivered a two-run single to make it 8-2.

The West reserves, who entered the game en masse in the sixth, ended up accounting for seven of the team's eight runs.

"I think we all were kind of antsy to get out there and play," Soto said. "When we finally got our chance, we had gotten the jitters out."

The East added a run in the ninth when Liriano singled, stole second and third and scored on a base hit by South Bend's Ender Inciarte.

Don Doxsie is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.
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