PHOENIX — When Bruce Bochy summoned Tyler Clippard with two outs in the top of the fourth inning trailing by a run, he had one job: to get Adrian Beltre out. He didn’t even do that, and still he walked away as the winning pitcher in the National League’s 5-1 victory over the American League Tuesday night in the 2011 All-Star Game.
“It was the definition of a vulture,” Clippard said. “I’ll take it.”
Bochy had chatted with Clippard before the game and told the Nationals right-hander that if a situation arose where one of the starting pitchers Bochy had lined up needed help to get out of an inning, Clippard would be his guy. Texas’ Josh Hamilton would be the last batter Phillies’ left-hander Cliff Lee would face, Clippard knew that, so when Hamilton wasn’t retired, he threw a few more warmup pitches and turned toward the opening bullpen doors.
All he had to do was something he’d already done on 19 occasions this seasons — get outs with runners on first and second base. During the regular season, Clippard had allowed just one hit in that situation, though it was a home run, and he’d let just six of his 32 inherited runners cross the plate. Basically, it was a situation primed for him.
How well is this season going for Clippard? He didn’t even do what he was picked for the team to do and still he came away successful — with a gargantuan assist to left fielder Hunter Pence and catcher Brian McCann, who gunned Jose Bautista out at the plate to end the inning. Moments later, Prince Fielder’s three-run homer would give Clippard the honor of being the game’s winning pitcher.
In a twist, he did something he made a regular habit of in 2010, vulturing wins from other players. As a reliever, Clippard led the Nationals in wins with 11 last year and five came after he’d blown a save the inning before. That, along with allowing inherited runners to score, is something he’s made a conscious effort not to do this season — and he’s been successful. It reared its head at an interesting time.
“Very ironic,” he said. “Something last year was weird and this one was a little bit more of the same. I haven’t had this happen this year. Fortunately I’ve been able to keep us in the lead when we have it but this was a little different situation, obviously, and it worked out.”
It was strange, to say the least, that in a game started by Roy Halladay, turned over to Lee, Clayton Kershaw, Jair Jurrjens, Craig Kimbrel, Jonny Venters, Heath Bell, Joel Hanrahan and Brian Wilson, that Clippard would walk away with the win.
How strange? He became the first pitcher since 1954 to pick up the win in an All-Star Game without retiring a single batter and the second consecutive National to get the win after Matt Capps did it in 2010 — the first team to have a representative get the win since Doug Jones and Heathcliff Slocumb did it in 1994-95 for Philadelphia.
Not wild enough for you? How about the fact that the last guy who did it, Dean Stone, also pitched for Washington — or that there have been exactly four pitchers in the history of the All-Star Game to get the win when pitching just 1/3 of an inning and three of them did so in a Washington uniform: Capps, Clippard and Stone.
The only pitcher to go 1/3 of an inning and get the win when representing any other club was Johnny Antonelli for the Giants in 1957.
Capps texted his former teammate before the game. He told him to have fun and offered his congratulations. He didn’t know that Clippard would be following in his footsteps hours later.
After the game, Clippard was asked how well-known he thought he was outside of Washington. While Nationals fans adore him for his effectiveness — and his quirks — like most set-up guys he gets largely ignored by mainstream media.
“Setup guys don’t really get a lot of recognition,” he said. “We’re coming in in the eighth inning. I’m not on ESPN ever, I know that.”
That role is generally reserved for the closer, the ninth-inning guy, the one shown on all the highlights of the team high-fiving at the end of another win. That’s not Clippard. It’s his roommate Drew Storen, or as Clippard referred to them earlier this week “a one-two punch.” Tuesday night, even if he doesn’t make the ESPN highlights, he was still the one getting a lot of recognition.
So now that the Nationals have a nifty little tradition going, it brings up the question: who will pick up the win in the 2012 All-Star Game in Kansas City?
“Storen,” he said. “Storen is getting it next year.”