Commentary

Tyler Clippard swoops in for win

Nationals reliever gets All-Star victory without retiring a batter in NL's triumph

Originally Published: July 12, 2011
By Jim Caple | ESPN.com

PHOENIX -- How good are the pitchers going this season? Nationals reliever Tyler Clippard earned the All-Star Game victory Tuesday night without retiring a single batter. "That's definitely going to be a trivia question,'' Padres closer Heath Bell said. "That's interesting. I didn't realize that. 'Hey, you got a W without getting anyone out! Sweet!'"

Well, "earned'' probably isn't the best verb for this particular occasion. In baseball parlance, Clippard "vultured'' the win, receiving the victory even though the only out he recorded was due to a teammate turning a line-drive single into an out at the plate.

"That is the definition of it, what just happened there,'' Clippard said. "It's one thing to maybe get one out and the team goes ahead. It's another to give up a hit and they throw a guy out on it, and that's your outing and you get the win. That's kind of crazy. Maybe a worse way to do it is to give up a two-run homer to tie it and then go ahead. But either way, that's still a vulture.''

Clippard is an expert on vulture wins. He won 11 games coming out of the bullpen last year, a total a reliever normally arrives at only if he comes in with the game tied a lot or blows a lead but remains the pitcher of record when the team rallies to regain the lead for good.

[+] EnlargeTyler Clippard
Jeff Gross/Getty ImagesTyler Clippard had it pretty easy. He didn't retire a hitter but walked away with an All-Star win.

"It went both ways,'' he said. "There were times when I came into tie ballgames and we got the lead and I got the win that way. There were times when I gave up the lead and then we went ahead again and got the win that way. So, I'm no stranger to vulture-ing.''

This season, however, he is pitching much better. He is 1-0 with a 1.75 ERA and has allowed just 26 hits in 51 1/3 innings while striking out 63, a season that warranted his first All-Star appearance.

"It was very ironic,'' Clippard said of getting a vulture win. "Last year was weird, and [Tuesday's All-Star Game] was more of the same. I haven't had this happen this year. Fortunately, I've been able to keep us in the lead when we've had it, but this was a little bit different situation. But it worked out.''

Clippard took over from Cliff Lee in the fourth inning with two out, two on and the American League leading 1-0. He threw two quick fastballs past Adrian Beltre to get ahead 0-2, then came in with another fastball that Beltre slammed into left field for a single. Fortunately for Clippard, Beltre hit the ball so hard that left fielder Hunter Pence came up with it quickly and fired a strike to the plate to easily throw out Jose Bautista trying to score and end the inning.

"It changed the momentum of the game,'' Clippard said of the throw.

Well, that and the three-run homer Prince Fielder hit in the bottom of the fourth. That gave the National League a 3-1 lead. Clayton Kershaw took over to begin the fifth inning and presto! -- Clippard was the pitcher of record in the National League's eventual 5-1 victory.

As a setup man on a team that rarely receives much coverage apart from Stephen Strasburg, Bryce Harper or when it hires a 68-year-old manager, Clippard said he doubts he is well-known outside of the D.C. area  "I'm never on ESPN.'' Thanks to Tuesday, though, now his name will be in the trivia books, as well as the All-Star record book.

"It's been awesome,'' he said of his experience in Arizona. "This game was the coolest part for sure. Getting to go to battle with all these guys and experiencing pitching a game like this. The atmosphere is something I'll never forget.''

Jim Caple is a senior writer for ESPN.com.

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Senior Writer, ESPN.com