Moments later, when Milwaukee Brewers slugger Prince Fielder jacked a three-run homer to left-center field, Clippard became the pitcher of record. And when the NL put the finishing touches on a 5-1 victory in front of 47,994 fans, Clippard, his entire night’s work consisting of three pitches, all fastballs, became the winner (1-0).
The victory, the NL’s second in a row after going 13 years without a win, earned home field advantage in the World Series for the league’s champion — a perk that has been linked to the All-Star Game outcome since 2003.
Clippard, Washington’s lone all-star, became the second straight Nationals reliever to “vulture” a win — defined loosely as “to earn a win while contributing virtually nothing to the cause” — in the All-Star Game, following Matt Capps in 2010. Though at least Capps, who also faced only one batter, struck his man out.
“It was the definition of a vulture,” Clippard said of his win. “I’ll take it.”
The AL had taken a 1-0 lead in the top of the fourth when Boston’s Adrian Gonzalez homered off Philadelphia’s Cliff Lee — the first homer in an All-Star Game since 2008. To that point, the Phillies’ righty-lefty tandem of Roy Halladay and Lee were working on a mini-perfect game: 11 up, 11 down. But three batters later, after Lee gave up consecutive two-out singles, NL Manager Bruce Bochy of the San Francisco Giants lifted him in favor of Clippard.
The batter was Texas Rangers third baseman Adrian Beltre, and Clippard quickly got ahead with a pair of strikes. But Clippard’s third pitch stayed over the plate, and Beltre smashed it to left field.
“I was trying to elevate a fastball, and I didn’t get it high enough,” Clippard said. “It wasn’t a well-executed pitch by any means.”
But left fielder Hunter Pence of the Houston Astros charged, scooped up the ball and fired a strong throw home, beating the baserunner, Toronto’s Jose Bautista, to the plate. There would be no Pete Rose-Ray Fosse collision here — the game may “count” now, but no need in getting anyone hurt. Instead, Bautista executed a meek, feet-first slide into the glove of Atlanta catcher Brian McCann for the third out. Clippard walked off the mound emotionlessly, almost certainly aware his night was over.
In the bottom half of the inning, with a pair of runners on, Fielder, who would be named the game’s most valuable player, unloaded on a 2-2 pitch from Texas lefty C.J. Wilson, driving it over the wall in left-center for a three-run homer. And when the top of the fifth opened, there was a new pitcher for the NL.