LOS ANGELES – One by one, they emerged from the American League bullpen at the 92nd All-Star Game, tasked with preserving a one-run lead and a ninth consecutive AL victory in the Midsummer Classic.
Along the way, they decided to put on a pitching clinic, too.
The MVP trophy was carried home by New York Yankees slugger Giancarlo Stanton, whose two-run homer erased a fourth-inning deficit in a 3-2 AL win over the National League.
Yet the dominance on display by the AL pitchers left an enduring mark – on this game and frustrated NL hitters.
Just ask the greatest pitcher of them all who was the only one to fail.
Shane McClanahan has been the league’s most dominant starter this season, leading the major leagues with a 1.71 ERA, and thus was named the AL starter by Houston manager Dusty Baker.
ALL-STAR GAME: Stanton, Buxton power American League to ninth straight win
He mottled the night quickly, yielding first-inning runs on a Mookie Betts single and Paul Goldschmidt homer, created a 2-0 deficit – and then watched those that followed quiet the NL bats and clean up his mess.
“That shows how bad I was,” says McClanahan, “and how good they were. Hats off to them. It’s baseball, baby. I’m still excited.”
Just how good were they?
Ten relievers combined for eight shutout innings, and piggybacked for seven no-hit innings until Austin Riley stroked a leadoff single off Clay Holmes in the eighth. They struck out nine NL batters and walked just two.
The run began when Toronto Blue Jays right-hander Alek Manoah picked up after McClanahan and struck out the side in the second. It finished when Cleveland Guardians closer Emmanuel Clasé punched out the NL on 10 pitches in the ninth, all 97.7 mph or faster.
“Incredible,” says 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, perhaps learning a new pitch grip, committed to renewing acquaintances.
For Chicago White Sox closer Liam Hendriks, it was a window into what makes the AL hurlers so nasty.
He retired one batter in the eighth inning but spent the rest of his time watching what makes his teammates tick, and learning just how much of a problem they all are.
Like Framber Valdez.
The Houston Astros lefty needed just 11 pitches to set down Juan Soto, Manny Machado and Freddie Freeman in the third inning, an unsurprising outcome given his 2.66 ERA this year. And Hendriks found himself picking the brain of fellow Australian 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 sharp, and it’s everything you could hope for in a pitcher,” says Hendriks. “It was awesome being out there. It’s always fascinating.”
Perhaps someday, McClanahan will be one of the veteran stars who pitches his inning, quickly addresses the media and then hops a flight to salvage the remainder of his All-Star break.
Tuesday was his first, though, and so he hung around and learned, eyes wide, and saw his teammates for a night dominate the one time he couldn’t.
“It was the best experience of my life, and hopefully I get to do it again someday,” says McClanahan. “My whole season, I’ve been so trying to put my team in position to win. Tonight was no different, but I can live with it. To be here is an honor. I couldn’t be more thankful.
“I have a tremendous amount of respect for every single person here.”