Trio of hurlers help lock down All-Star win
Jurrjens, Kimbrel, Venters combine to throw 2 2/3 shutout innings
PHOENIX -- It was Brewers slugger Prince Fielder who effectively won Tuesday's 82nd All-Star Game for the National League and Nationals reliever Tyler Clippard who recorded the individual victory. But it was a trio of Braves pitchers who locked down home-field advantage for the Senior Circuit.
Jair Jurrjens, Craig Kimbrel and Jonny Venters combined to fire 2 2/3 shutout innings at Chase Field, leading the NL to its second straight victory -- and second straight promise of World Series home-field advantage -- over the American League.
"I don't think you could have drawn it up any better way, having us back-to-back-to-back like that," Kimbrel said. "It was special, and I was excited. We were all excited."
First to enter for the Braves was Jurrjens, one of the leading candidates for the NL starting gig that ultimately went to Roy Halladay. The NL's fifth pitcher, Jurrjens opened the sixth inning with a strikeout of Red Sox outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury, before finishing off the side in order. Coming back out for the seventh, he retired another two batters before allowing a single to Kevin Youkilis and giving way to Kimbrel.
Initially struggling to find the strike zone with a series of 97- and 98-mph fastballs, Kimbrel then walked Paul Konerko before settling down to retire Howard Kendrick on a groundout.
And relieving Kimbrel was none other than Venters, who retired another two batters to open the eighth.
In sum, Braves pitchers recorded eight of the NL's 27 outs, striking out two batters, walking one and allowing one hit. Perhaps most importantly, they constructed a bridge from the NL's starting-pitching talent to its end-game relievers.
"It was pretty cool," Venters said. "It was a really special experience."
Among the Braves, Tuesday's performance was little surprise. Venters (1.46 ERA) and Kimbrel (2.35 ERA, 28 saves) have formed one of the game's top young bullpen tandems so far this season, combining to strike out 129 batters in 101 1/3 innings. And Jurrjens (12-3, 1.87 ERA) has been perhaps the league's most consistent starter.
"That's just what they do," said NL starting catcher Brian McCann, the Braves' fourth representative in Phoenix. "They put up zeros and they pitch late in games, and that's a big reason we're in the position we're in."
McCann faced an awkward situation before the game, reviewing signs and strategies with Halladay. Typically facing Halladay three or four times per year when the Braves play the rival Phillies, McCann is not used to sharing any information with the enemy -- especially not with such a strong opponent.
"I'm sure he's not going to tell me too much," McCann said, laughing prior to his meeting with Halladay. "I just need to know where to set up and what pitches to call."
Whatever the two discussed seemed to work. McCann caught Halladay's two perfect innings and remained behind the plate for two additional innings. He finished 0-for-2 at the plate.
"It means a lot," McCann said of his All-Star experience. "It was a dream come true to start this game."
For the three other Braves making their first career All-Star appearances, the day meant just as much.
"It's awesome," Venters said before the game, nodding toward Kimbrel's locker. "Having him sitting next to me is something special. We've developed a good friendship, and he's been really fun to watch pitch this year."
"We have four guys here, and we could have had five," Kimbrel said, referring to snubbed teammate Tommy Hanson. "I could not have imagined this. If you'd have told me a year and a half ago that this was going to happen, I'd have said you're crazy. It's an honor to be here."