The setup man boosted his win total to a team-leading 11 last year and gained some notoriety by “vulturing” a handful of them - or getting the win after he’d blown a lead or entered in a tie game, only to see the Nationals take the lead in the next half-inning. He’s been superb with inherited runners this year, and only has one win because of it, but Clippard snagged an All-Star Game win in vintage form on Tuesday night.
He pitched to one batter in the fourth inning, allowing a single to Adrian Beltre with the National League down 1-0 and men on first and second. But Astros outfielder Hunter Pence threw a strike from left field, gunning down Jose Bautista at the plate. And when eventual game MVP Prince Fielder launched a three-run homer in the bottom of the fourth, Clippard was in line for the win. He got it when the NL hung on for a 5-1 win over the American League.
“What a way to do it. That’s probably the definition of a vulture win,” Clippard said. “It was fun - great experiences, something I’ll never forget.”
Clippard got ahead in his at-bat against Beltre, but tried to throw one of his high fastballs with an 0-2 count, and didn’t get the pitch up enough in the zone. Beltre had homered off him in one of the two other times they had faced each other, and he stung a drive to left on Tuesday.
But Pence bailed him out.
“Maybe (he’ll get me) dinner or something. Who knows?” Pence said. “But we got a win, and that’s how it goes.”
And even for the All-Star Game, when the high number of pitchers leads to unusual final results, Clippard’s victory was odd.
He followed former Nationals reliever Matt Capps, who got the win last year after striking out David Ortiz; the two became the first two pitchers from the same team to get All-Star Game wins in back-to-back years since the Phillies’ Doug Jones and Heathcliff Slocumb in 1994 and 1995. Clippard said Capps texted him before the game to wish him luck, and he wound up following his former teammate.
And Clippard became the first pitcher to win the All-Star Game without retiring a batter since 1954.
Oddly enough, the pitcher that did it that year was also wearing a Washington jersey; Dean Stone claimed the victory for the Washington Senators after Red Schoendienst was caught stealing home.
There have been four pitchers in All-Star Game history to earn a win while pitching one-third of an inning. Three of them were from Washington: Stone, Capps and now Clippard.
Even though he only pitched to one batter, Clippard came away raving about his first All-Star experience, saying he was just hoping to get in the game. Once he came out of the game, he said the thought crossed his mind that he might be able to snag a win, but he wasn’t sure how the process worked, since starting pitcher Roy Halladay only thrown two innings.
In the end, though, he continued the Nationals’ odd little tradition at the All-Star Game - he said roommate Drew Storen will be the next one to do it - and he wound up with a good story.
He has no plans to change it in the retelling, either.
“I’m going to say I grooved an 0-2 heater to Beltre, and 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.”