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John Romano: Palm Harbor native and Nationals reliever Tyler Clippard All-Star Game's big winner

PHOENIX — Check the record books. That's all Tyler Clippard need say.

Do not answer questions, Tyler. Do not offer many details. And for heaven's sake, do not go to the videotape.

From now until the end of days, you need only go to the record books to see that Clippard was the winning pitcher when the National League beat the American League 5-1 on Tuesday night in the 2011 All-Star Game.

The Palm Harbor native can one day tell neighbors and school children about the night he bailed out Cy Young Award winner Cliff Lee on the mound. Years from now, the Nationals reliever can smile politely into the cameras and recount how he showed up large in the Midsummer Classic.

And he need never mention that he failed to retire the only batter he faced.

So you'll keep quiet, right, Tyler?

"No," Clippard said. "I'm going to say I grooved an 0-2 heater to (Adrian) Beltre and Hunter Pence threw 'em out at the plate and I 'vultured' a win in my first All-Star Game.

"I don't think that story gets any better."

He might be right, for this might be the ultimate when it comes to "vultures," a term used to describe relief pitchers who get rewarded for screwing up.

Clippard, who grew up in north Pinellas County and graduated from Mitchell High in New Port Richey, entered Tuesday's game with two on and two out and the NL trailing 1-0 in the fourth inning.

He got two quick strikes on Beltre then gave up a screaming line drive to leftfield. In future retellings, he might at least want to claim that was part of the strategy, because the ball got to Pence so quickly that he threw out Jose Bautista at the plate to end the inning.

Three batters into the bottom of the inning, Milwaukee first baseman Prince Fielder crushed a three-run homer to centerfield, and the NL took a 3-1 lead.

Except for the congratulations, Clippard's night was done.

He gave Pence a quick hug then stayed on the bench to watch the rest of the game instead of going to the clubhouse like he normally might. He still wasn't sure if he would be the winning pitcher until afterward.

"Two guys pitched before me, and I didn't get an out, so I didn't know if it was going to be the (official) scorer's discretion or not," Clippard said. "I was just glad we got ahead."

Consider the cheap win a fitting payback for all the hard work it took for Clippard to get here. For Clippard, who played on youth teams in Pinellas County around the same time as Rays first baseman Casey Kotchman, has been a study in perseverance.

Dismissed from the Mitchell High team after a drinking incident in his senior season, Clippard was a ninth-round draft pick of the Yankees in 2003.

"It's an amazing chain of events that got him here," said Clippard's father, Bob, who was at Chase Field on Tuesday night. "You never realize how many times you need to fail before you're ready to succeed."

It took seven seasons bouncing among eight minor-league teams, a trade to Washington and a transformation from starter to reliever before Clippard's career took off in 2009.

His ERA of 2.62 since then is among the top 10 for relievers who have logged at least 50 appearances a season. And none of the other nine can match Clippard's average of 10.7 strikeouts per nine innings during that span.

But as a setup man for Nationals closer Drew Storen, Clippard, 26, wasn't banking on an All-Star appearance, even with his 1.75 ERA this season.

"This was awesome," he said. "Getting to go to battle with all of these guys and pitching in a game like this, everything about it was awesome. It's something I'll never forget."

Clippard wasn't even sure he was going to get into the game. Lee was scheduled to finish the fourth inning when Clippard was warming up, so he figured the only way he was going to pitch was if the Rangers' Josh Hamilton reached base.

Hamilton obliged with a broken-bat looper to centerfield.

"My nerves were in check. I felt pretty good," Clippard said.

It turned out to be a remarkable few days for Clippard, who came to Phoenix on a private jet when Rockies shortstop Troy Tulowitzki offered him a ride on his charter after Sunday's game in Washington.

"I'm trying to get my hands on as many autographs and as much memorabilia as I can," Clippard said Monday. "I'm not a big collector, but there are a lot of Hall of Famers here, and you don't know if you're ever going to get the chance to do it again."

As if to punctuate the point, when his Monday interview session ended, Clippard thanked everyone around him then turned around and unhooked the fancy placard that had his name and the All-Star logo on it that was hanging on the wall.

Turns out, it wasn't the only souvenir he left town with.

John Romano can be reached at

John Romano: Palm Harbor native and Nationals reliever Tyler Clippard All-Star Game's big winner 07/12/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, July 13, 2011 12:51am]
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