In the eighth inning of the Nationals’ 5-1 victory Saturday afternoon, Tyler Clippard emerged from the bullpen in right field. The fans at Nationals Park, many of whom had lined up five hours before first pitch to secure a bobblehead in Clippard’s image, rose and showered him with an ovation. As the Fugees’ familiar “Ready Or Not” blared, the roar continued until Clippard’s strut finished at the mound.
“It was cool, man,” Clippard said. “I got the chills a little bit. It was cool. It kind of gets you ready for the playoffs. That’s kind of what that felt like. They were loud and into it. Anytime it’s like that, especially the home crowd, it’s fun.”
Set-up relievers do not get bobblehead days, do not grow into fan favorites and do not become part of a franchise’s bedrock. But Clippard has, persisting and thriving in one of baseball’s most volatile roles. Clippard is about to finish his sixth season as a reliever in Washington. In each of the past five seasons, has thrown at least 70 innings and appeared in at least 72 games, the vast majority of the time protecting a lead late in the game.
Clippard has been an all-star twice, including this season – the last reliever to make two all-star teams not as a closer was Justin Duchscherer in 2005 and 2008. Clippard has thrown more innings than any reliever in baseball over the past five years and pitched to a 2.63 ERA.
There is no one else in the major leagues quite like Clippard, who throws a magic-trick change-up, a riding fastball and a grab bag of interchangeable off-speed pitches. He reads hitters’ tendencies better than most starters. He is still here, pitching the eighth inning.
For one eighth inning, he got to hear fans in his home park appreciate him.
“I’ve been running out there a lot in the course of the time I’ve been here in Washington,” Clippard said. “I think the fans have taken notice and appreciate that a little bit. It’s nice to hear that ovation and get that recognition. I’m very appreciative of that.”