Matt Capps’ 2010 All-Star Game appearance was Nationals’ most memorable

July 16, 2018

There have been 16 Washington Nationals players who have been part of the All-Star Game. Some of their All-Star moments were OK, others an afterthought, not even part of the box score.

One All-Star appearance, arguably, was the most memorable by a Nationals reliever who was only part of the team for four months.

Matt Capps wasn’t here for long in 2010. But he made Nationals fans proud with his All-Star appearance that year, even though it was only facing one batter.

That batter was Home Run Derby winner David Ortiz, who Capps came in to face in the bottom of the sixth inning, with the American League leading 1-0 and Josh Hamilton on first base with two outs.

After going 2-0 on Ortiz, Capps managed to even the count at 2-2 before striking out the AL slugger looking to end the inning.

The next inning, Brian McCann Capps’ catcher and childhood friend from Atlanta slammed a bases-loaded double to give the National League a 3-1 lead.

It also gave Capps the win.

“I don’t recall it registering at that point that I was the pitcher of record,” said Capps, 34, who lives in Atlanta and is part of a group that operates sports medicine clinics. “Then someone came up to me and told me and I thought, hey I could win this thing. I could vulture this thing. We held on. That was cool.”

That was no small accomplishment, even though Capps earned it facing just one batter. There have only been three National League winning pitchers since John Smoltz won the game for the NL in 1996, since the AL has won 17 of the last 21 games (the 2002 game in Milwaukee ended in a 7-7 tie).

Matt Cain was the last winning pitcher in 2012. Ironically, the two years before that, two Nationals relief pitchers were the winning pitchers of record for the NL Capps in 2010 and Tyler Clippard in 2011. But Clippard’s “vulture” a reliever picking off a winning decision based on a short appearance was hardly noteworthy. He came into the game in the fourth inning with the NL losing 1-0 and gave up a single to Adrian Beltre with two outs and runners on first and second. But Hunter Pence threw out Jose Bautista at home for the third out. In the bottom of the inning, the AL scored three runs to take the lead and go on to a 5-1 win.

In terms of “vulture” appearances, Capps’ is far more impressive. It may be the most dramatic moment of any Washington Nationals in the history of the All-Star Game.

Capps, who will be in the District this week as his former team hosts the All-Star Game, had signed a one-year, $3.5 million deal as a free agent with Washington in December 2009 after being non-tendered by the Pittsburgh Pirates. He was coming to a team that had lost 103 games the year before. But Capps said you could see the direction of the franchise changing when he arrived.

“You could see something building,” Capps said. “There was something special about the organization. They had just drafted (Stephen) Strasburg in 2009. They did a nice job of sprinkling veteran pieces like Josh Willingham and Pudge Rodriguez, the guys they brought in to show the younger guys who to go about things.

“You could really see the organization turning the corner and putting things together,” he said. “Drafting Bryce (Harper) later that year was a big part of it. I was really impressed with (general manager) Mike Rizzo. You always felt like you could go up to him and ask him questions and he would give you an honest answer. Same thing with the Lerners Mark was out there shagging fly balls.

“It was a phenomenal experience to see how much the ownership and front office really cared about the players on the field.”

Capps had a tremendous first half of the 2010 season. He was 10-for-10 in save opportunities in April, with a 0.68 ERA for the month. He converted his first 16 save opportunities and had 23 by the All-Star Game, tied for second in all of baseball. He was voted into the game on the Player’s Ballot.

“It was the weekend before the All-Star Game,” Capps said. “Mike and (manager Jim) Riggleman called me into the office and told me I had made it. They told me I was voted in by the players. What an honor to be recognized by your peers. I took a lot of pride in that.”

He was caught up in the experience at Angel Stadium of Anaheim.

“Some of my most vivid memories were being on the field during batting practice for the Derby and the Game, socializing with guys you had admired,” he said. “I was talking with Tim Hudson, who I grew up watching in Atlanta. And to be in the clubhouse with guys like Chris Carpenter, Albert Pujols and Roy Halladay, those are special memories. I just tried to soak up as much as I could at the time.”

It was bittersweet for Capps, though. His father Mike had passed away in October. “I think, for every man when they lose their father, it’s a weird time,” he said. “I was very close to my Dad. We talked every day, whether we were on the East Coast or West Coast.

“I was learning who I was, how to stand on my own two feet,” Capps said. “I had always had that emotional support from my Dad. To reach the point of becoming an All Star was something I would have loved to share with him and I know he would have been happy to see that. It was like something was missing. But my Mom was able to be out there for it, my brother, my wife and her parents.”

Before the game, Philadelphia Phillies and NL manager Charlie Manuel told pitchers if they warmed up and didn’t get in the game right away, they probably would not pitch, not putting them at risk for injury. So the game is going on, with the AL taking a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the fifth, when Halladay comes in to start the sixth inning for the NL, and Capps is watching from the bullpen.

“The bullpen coach comes up to me and says today is Doc’s bullpen day,” Capps said. “He’s going to throw 20 to 25 pitches. If he gets in any trouble, it’s going to be you. I was excited, so I got up and started throwing, but that conversation with Charlie was in the back of my mind. This is Roy Halladay. Maybe 25 pitches could be a couple of innings, so I thought there would be a slim chance I would pitch.

“Next thing I know there are a couple of guys on base,” he said. “I see Charlie walking up the steps and I thought, Holy ...., I hadn’t really thrown. I was playing catch with the bullpen catcher. So I get him to squat down real quick and I fire as many fastballs as I can. I run to the mound, Charlie hands me the ball and says, okay, kid you’ve got two outs here.”

With Hamilton on first, McCann Capps childhood friend asks him, “What do you want to do here?”

Capps replied, “Who do we got?”

Then he saw the 6-foot-3, 240-pound Ortiz walking up to the plate. “This is the guy I watched with the Home Run Derby the day before,” Capps said. “I say, ‘Let’s see if we can get ahead of him.’ So of course I fell behind 2-0. Then I threw him a fastball down the middle for strike one. Then I threw him a sinker that he fouled off.”

With the count 2-2, Capps arguably has the outcome of the game in his right hand. “Mac (McCann) put down a slider first, and I shook it off,” he said. “Then he put down a change up and I shook it off. Then he called for a fastball away and I shook him. Then he called for the sinker in. I shook my head yes, executed the pitch, and it was a good one. I got him to take and it was strike three.”

The next inning, McCann got the game-winning double to lead the NL to a 3-1 victory.

It was All-Star Game theater, arguably the best performance of any Washington Nationals player, at least in terms of drama.

Capps’ career as a National was short-lived. He would be traded July 29 to the Minnesota Twins for a young catcher named Wilson Ramos. Two years later, Capps, who is currently also doing baseball analysis with ATT for Pirates games, was out of baseball with shoulder problems. His All-Star moment representing the Washington Nationals was one of the highlights of his eight-year career.

“I was pumped up,” Capps said. That was a huge moment. I was on top of the world.”

⦁ Thom Loverro hosts his weekly podcast “Cigars Curveballs” Wednesdays available on iTunes, Google Play and the reVolver podcast network.

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