- Bruce Levine, Chicago baseball beat reporter
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ANAHEIM, Calif. -- It was a battle between two Chicago players that helped decide the outcome of the 81st All-Star Game on Tuesday night in Anaheim.
Byrd laid off of a 3-2 fastball that registered 98 mph, walking to set the stage for Braves catcher Brian McCann ’s bases-clearing three-run double, as the National League went on to a 3-1 victory.
Byrd was asked if he was thinking fastball on that pitch.
“Automatic, automatic,” Byrd said. “The whole thing for me was, ‘could I lay off of it?’ And I did. I did it at the right time tonight, and hopefully I can carry that over to the second half [for the Cubs].”
Byrd’s at-bat was the key to the NL’s three-run inning, and their first All-Star win since 1996. However, the Cubs outfielder’s heads-up play in right field proved to be yet another play of the game when he forced Boston’s David Ortiz at second base in the ninth inning. Toronto catcher John Buck flared a ball to right field and Byrd had to decide whether to go for the shoestring catch, or try to force the slow-running Ortiz with a throw.
“I didn’t know what I was going to do until the ball started to come down,” Byrd said. “Once it started to come down I made up my mind to let it drop, and to just try to spin and fire.”
Byrd’s perfect throw forced the slow-footed and confused Ortiz out at second base, setting up the final out of the game as Ian Kinsler flew out to Chris Young in centerfield. For the NL and Byrd, it was a magic moment.
“It’s amazing. It’s really amazing,” Byrd said. “We broke the streak. They’ll always talk about 2010 and the National League breaking the American League win streak.
All-Star MVP McCann talked about his double off of Thornton.
“He throws 97-98 mph from the left side,” McCann said. “ I faced him before. I got a pitch up in the zone and I was able to connect on it. It was a big moment for us.”
Not every National League All-Star was firmly in Byrd’s corner after the victory. Cincinnati’s Joey Votto had a different take on Byrd’s performance.
“I don’t like the Cubs,” Votto said. “And I’m not going to pat anybody with a Cubs uniform on the back. But because he made that really cool play, it turned out to be a really cool experience. I’m really glad we got the win today.”
With the Reds in first place at the break, the irony would be that Byrd’s at-bat and great throw may help Votto and his team end up with home-field advantage if Cincinnati makes it to the World Series.