PHOENIX – The situation couldn’t have fit Tyler Clippard better.
The Washington Nationals setup man had waited all week to find out when his All-Star status would hit him. As he unleashed a 93 mph fastball to Texas third baseman Adrian Beltre with two on, two out — courtesy of the Phillies’ Cliff Lee — in the top of the fourth Tuesday night, it did.
His third and final pitch would yield a single, but Toronto slugger Jose Bautista would ensure that it would also yield an out. Racing around third base, Bautista plowed into Atlanta catcher Brian McCann, who’d already received Astros left fielder Hunter Pence’s rocket throw. Bautista had no chance.
“I had a weird intuition that he was about to hit a line drive,” Pence said. “I was like, ‘OK, well if he hits a line drive, I’m going to try to make a good throw.’ “
Milwaukee’s Prince Fielder slugged a three-run homer in the bottom of the inning to lead the National League to a 5-1 victory, and Clippard became the second straight Nationals pitcher to earn the win in the All-Star Game. Matt Capps did so in 2010 before being dealt to Minnesota later in the season.
The last pitchers from the same team to win consecutive All-Star Games were Doug Jones and Heathcliff Slocumb, who did it for Philadelphia in 1994 and 1995.
Clippard led the Nationals with 11 wins a season ago, but five came after he’d blown save opportunities. He made a conscious effort this season to cut down his 39 percent mark of allowing inherited runners to score. This year that is not an issue. Clippard is the Nationals’ best reliever with runners on base, allowing 19 percent to come in.This time, on one of the game’s biggest stages, he didn’t retire a batter. So how will he tell the story in years to come?
“I’m going to say I grooved an 0-2 heater to Beltre, Hunter Pence threw him out at the plate and I vultured a win in my first All-Star Game,” Clippard said. “I don’t think that story gets any better.
“It was the definition of a vulture. I’ll take it.”
Clippard walked briskly into the NL’s dugout, thanking Pence. His night was over, replaced by the Los Angeles Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw to start the fifth inning. In a statistical quirk, Clippard became the first pitcher since Dean Stone in 1954 to win an All-Star Game without retiring a batter.
“I was trying to elevate,” Clippard said, admitting that even after getting up 0-2 he didn’t consider using his changeup. “I was trying to elevate a fastball in. I didn’t get it up high enough. It wasn’t a well-executed pitch by any means but, hey, it worked. What are you going to do?”
Against an AL squad decimated by pitcher withdrawal, the NL’s staff clearly was superior. The AL the lost New York Yankees’ Mariano Rivera, Detroit’s Justin Verlander and Tampa Bay’s David Price and James Shields — among others — and was unexpectedly without Boston’s Josh Beckett, who felt some soreness in his left knee warming up for the second inning.
Regardless, the AL’s hitters were baffled all night. Roy Halladay started with two perfect innings in just 19 pitches. Lee was the only NL pitcher to get into any serious trouble, surrendering a home run to Boston’s Adrian Gonzalez and the two subsequent singles that hastened Clippard’s entrance. Clippard, Pittsburgh closer Joel Hanrahan and Atlanta’s Jair Jurrjens were the only other pitchers to even surrender a hit.
“It’s an All-Star experience,” Clippard said. “I got out of there with three pitches, got the win. It’s all good. No matter how it happens, it’s fun. Even if I would have given up a home run right there, it’s still a great experience, no matter what happens.”
So now that the Nationals have started a tradition, who will get the win next year?
“[Drew] Storen,” Clippard said, without hesitation. “Storen’s getting it next year.”