MINNEAPOLIS — Tyler Clippard was minding his own business out in the visitors bullpen at Target Field, chatting with other pitchers on the NL All-Star squad, unsure if he would be appearing in this game at all. And then the call came, and the Nationals right-hander found himself warming up in a hurry, needed to come in and pitch his team out of a jam in the bottom of the fifth inning.
Clippard took the mound, told catcher Devin Mesoraco what pitches he throws, tossed his warm-ups and then actually bothered to look at who he was going to have to face: AL hit leader Jose Altuve.
“I was just happy to get in the game,” he said afterward. “A little different than I’m used to. I had to get ready pretty quick. But I’ll take it. I was happy to get in there. I didn’t really know who was coming up, and then they announced Altuve, and I thought, ‘Aw, man.’”
Thus began one of the more eventful, 11-pitch appearances of Clippard’s career. It included a curveball that hit the backstop on the fly, a rocket shot to left field for a sac fly, an 8-pitch battle with a 2-time MVP and ultimately two outs recorded.
“That’s kind of what my job is throughout the season,” he said. “To come into a spot like that, it was fun.”
The moment involving Clippard most will remember from this game was the one he’d like to forget: His 0-1 curveball to Altuve, which sailed way above the 5-foot-5 second baseman’s head and ricocheted off the backstop.
“I’ve done it before, I think you guys have seen it,” Clippard said. “It just slipped a little bit and went to the backstop. … It happens. It’s just part of what I do. I don’t try to do it, but it happens.”
With a runner on third at the time, Clippard feared the worst but then was amazed along with the sellout crowd of 41,048 when Mesoraco snared the ball with his bare hand and fired a perfect throw to third base that nearly caught Alexei Ramirez.
“That was super heads-up,” he said. “I thought it was going to get over his head, and I was ready to get it. But he just picked it out of the sky. And when he threw it, I was just like, ‘Wow, that was pretty impressive.’ I had a little laugh about it after the fact.”
Altuve wound up roping a line drive to deep left field, plenty deep enough to bring the run home, but still an out recorded. Then Clippard saw who was on-deck: Miguel Cabrera.
“I honestly did not know,” he said. “I was out there like, whoever steps into the box, steps into the box. And then I got [Altuve] out and I thought, ‘Oh sweet, Cabrera! Awesome!’ But you know what? In a game like this, in a spot like that, I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.”
Clippard engaged in a legitimate, 8-pitch battle with the two-time AL MVP, then finally got Cabrera to loft a 2-2 changeup to center field for the final out of the inning.
“I’m mad at myself for not striking him out,” he said. “But I got him out, so I can’t complain too much.”
Thus concluded Clippard’s second career All-Star experience. His first one, in 2011 in Arizona, lasted all of three pitches, including a base hit surrendered to the only batter he faced but then an out at the plate and ultimately a win after his NL teammates rallied in the next inning.
This one lasted 11 pitches, eight of them strikes, and two outs recorded. He didn’t “vulture” the win this time, because the NL lineup couldn’t rally from a 5-3 deficit. But the 29-year-old was beaming nonetheless inside the visitors clubhouse afterward, having soaked in every moment of the past 48 hours.
“It’s such a whirlwind,” he said. “It goes by so fast. But both experiences were just unbelievable. Sitting out in the bullpen and talking to the guys about how they hold their pitches. Facing all these All-Stars and talking about the hitters and how good they are, and how they throw and what they want to pitch these guys. I could talk all day to these guys and try to pick their brain.
“I was watching [Clayton] Kershaw warm up in the bullpen, trying to just get something from him. Stuff like that, when you’re involved in these games, that’s what makes it special. You’re around the best in the world, and it makes you want to do better. Hopefully I can take something away from today that makes me better.”