LOS ANGELES — One by one, they stormed out of the American League bullpen in the 92nd All-Star Game, tasked with holding onto a one-point lead and a ninth straight win for the AL in the Midsummer Classic. .
Along the way, they also decided to hold a pitching clinic.
The MVP trophy was won by New York Yankees slugger Giancarlo Stanton, whose two-run homer erased a fourth-inning deficit in the AL’s 3-2 win over the National League.
Still, the dominance displayed by AL pitchers left a lasting mark on this game and frustrated NL hitters.
Just ask the greatest pitcher of all who was the only one to fail.
Shane McClanahan has been the league’s most dominant starter this season, leading the majors with a 1.71 ERA, and as a result was named the AL starter by Houston manager Dusty Baker.
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He marbled the night quickly, producing first inning runs on a Mookie Betts single and a Paul Goldschmidt home run, created a 2-0 deficit – then watched those who followed calm the NL bats and clean up his mess.
“It shows how bad I was,” McClanahan says, “and how good they were. Hats off to them. It’s baseball, baby. I’m still excited.”
How good were they?
Ten relievers combined for eight shutout innings and went seven hitless innings until Austin Riley hit a first single against Clay Holmes in the eighth. They retired nine NL batters and walked just two.
The run began when Toronto Blue Jays right-hander Alek Manoah picked up after McClanahan and retired the side in second. It ended when closer Cleveland Guardians Emmanuel Clasé hit the NL on 10 pitches in the ninth, all at 97.7 mph or faster.
“Unbelievable,” said Minnesota Twins outfielder Byron Buxton, whose fourth-inning homer provided the winning margin. “Some guys, you’ve faced and you kind of know what they’ve got. And then you get on a team and play with them, it’s very eye-opening to realize, ‘Oh wow, I see you all the time, but when I play with you, I see, that’s what I have to hit?”
“It’s the best in the game for a reason.”
Indeed, the night was, like many All-Star weeks, a mission of discovery for the players, finding out what makes their teammates tick, maybe learning a new take on the pitch, committing to reconnecting.
For Liam Hendriks, closer to the Chicago White Sox, it was a window into what makes AL pitchers so mean.
He retired a batter in the eighth inning, but spent the rest of his time watching what his teammates were ticking on and learning what a problem they all are.
Like Framber Valdez.
The Houston Astros left-hander needed just 11 shots to beat Juan Soto, Manny Machado and Freddie Freeman in the third inning, an unsurprising result considering his 2.66 ERA this year. And Hendriks found himself picking the brains of fellow Aussie Michael Collins, the Astros’ catching coach whose duties include catching Valdez’s bullpen sessions.
“He said Framber’s ball is late, it’s big, it’s clean, and that’s all you can hope for from a pitcher,” Hendriks said. “It was great to be there. It’s always fascinating.”
Maybe one day McClanahan will be one of the veteran stars who throws his inning, quickly addresses the media, then skips a flight to salvage the rest of his All-Star break.
Tuesday was his first, though, and so he hung around and learned, wide-eyed, and watched as his teammates for one night dominated the one time he couldn’t.
“It was the best experience of my life, and I hope to do it again one day,” McClanahan said. “All my season I tried so hard to put my team in a position to win. Tonight was no different, but I can live with it. To be here is an honour. I couldn’t be more grateful.
“I have tremendous respect for every single person here.”