Marty Niland: Washington looking for new All-Star memories

With the Nationals playing better than ever at the midpoint of the 2012 season, they'll be well represented at next week's All-Star Game, where Washington could find some new memories to cherish.

Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez and Ian Desmond give the Nats their largest and most accomplished contingent since baseball returned to the nation's capital in 2005. This group has the potential to leave the biggest mark the city has ever made on the Midsummer Classic. Plenty of All-Stars have worn Washington uniforms over the years, but only a few have stood out in the game.

Befitting a team whose current reputation is built on pitching, most of Washington's All-Star thrills have come on the mound. In fact, the Nats can boast the winning pitcher in each of the last two All-Star games, as the National League broke a 13-year drought. In 2010, it was Matt Capps, striking out David Ortiz to end the sixth inning in Anaheim, before the NL went on to win 3-1 on Brian McCann's three-run double.

Last year, Tyler Clippard got the win in a 5-1 NL victory thanks to Hunter Pence's arm and Prince Fielder's bat. With men on first and second and the American League leading 1-0 in the fourth, Clippard faced one batter, Adrian Beltre, who singled to left. But when Jose Bautista tried to score from second, Pence cut him down at the plate to end the inning. The NL took the lead in the bottom of the inning on Fielder's three-run homer.

Clippard and another Washington pitcher, Dean Stone, share the distinction of receiving an All-Star win without retiring a batter. In 1954, Stone was in his second season in the big leagues and went 7-2 with the Senators in the first half to earn his only All-Star nod. He came on in the eighth, with Casey Stengel's AL squad trailing 9-8. Alvin Dark was on first and Red Schoendienst was on third. Duke Snider was at the plate, but NL manager Walter Alston took the bat out of his own slugger's hands, sending Schoendienst home on a steal attempt. Stone's throw nailed him, and the AL took the lead on Larry Doby's homer in the bottom of the eighth and went on to win 11-9 in Cleveland.

Another Senators pitcher, Dutch Leonard, started and won the only All-Star game he played, in 1943. He pitched three innings at Philadelphia's Shibe Park, allowing a run on two hits in the AL's 5-3 win. Leonard was actually named to four other All-Star teams, three with the Senators, but never took the mound.

At the plate, Washington's All-Stars have been mostly bit players. Alfonso Soriano, in the midst of his 40/40 season in 2006, singled and stole a base in a 3-2 NL loss in Pittsburgh. In 2007, Dmitri Young singled and scored on a homer by Soriano, then a Cub, in the ninth inning of a 5-4 NL loss at San Francisco.

Perhaps the most successful Senators All-Star hitter was Hall-of Famer Joe Cronin. In the first two Midsummer Classics, in 1933 and 1934, he was a combined 3-for-8. In 1934, he not only managed the AL team, but singled, doubled and drove in two runs to spark a 9-7 comeback win at the Polo Grounds.

In 1947, Senators center fielder Stan Spence drove in the go-ahead run in the AL's 2-1 win at Wrigley Field with a pinch-hit single to score Bobby Doerr. Two Senators first basemen also have All-Star RBIs: Eddie Robinson in an 11-7 AL victory in 1949 at Ebbetts Field, and Mickey Vernon in the AL's 6-5 loss at Milwaukee in 1955.

But only one Washington player has ever hit an All-Star home run. Frank Howard represented the AL four times, from 1968 to 1971, but his most memorable game was in 1969, when he was named to the starting lineup in front of his hometown fans. With one out in the second, the Capital Punisher took Steve Carlton, one of the greatest left-handers ever, to deep center field at RFK Stadium to put the AL on the board in an eventual 9-3 loss. It was Howard's only hit in All-Star competition.

No one can predict what will happen in an All-Star Game. But in what's looking more and more like a magical season for the Nats, each of the guys they're sending to Kansas City has the potential to do something special as the nation looks on. And just like most Nats games this season, it should be fun to watch.

Marty Niland blogs about the Nationals for D.C. Baseball History. His thoughts on the Nationals will appear here as part of MASNsports.com's season-long initiative of welcoming guest bloggers to our site. All opinions expressed are those of the guest bloggers, who are not employed by MASNsports.com but are just as passionate about their baseball as our roster of writers.

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