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McCann comes through for NL to earn MVP award

Photo by Jae C. Hong

Photo by Jae C. Hong

While Brian McCann had played in the last four All-Star games prior to the 2010 edition, he got one thing in Tuesday night's game of the Midsummer Classic that he hadn't in the others -- a second chance.

And the Atlanta Braves catcher made the most of his first opportunity to have more than one at-bat in an All-Star game.

His bases-loaded double in the seventh inning not only propelled the National League to a 3-1 victory -- it's first All-Star win since 1996 -- it also made him the toast of the baseball world, at least for a day, as the game's Most Valuable Player.

"It's a moment I'll never forget," McCann said in his postgame press conference at Angel Stadium in Anaheim, Calif. "You're lucky enough to be playing in one of these things, and to be put in a spot and come through, and actually do it ... you just dream about stuff like this. This isn't supposed to happen. It's cool."

McCann was likely just happy to get a second at-bat in the game after getting just three in his previous four All-Star appearances, and he couldn't have picked a better time for his first All-Star hit.

After flying out to the warning track with a pair of runners on to end the top of the fifth inning, the Duluth grad faced an identical situation two innings later with the National League still trailing the American League 1-0.

This time, after fouling off a pitch, McCann turned on a low-inside fastball from Chicago White Sox left-hander Matt Thornton and ripped it into the right-field corner, clearing the bases to put the National League up for good at 3-1.

"I was lucky enough to be put in two situations to help the team (Tuesday) night," McCann said. "Thornton has one of the best left-handed fastballs in the game. I sat on the fastball and got my hands going in on it. I got a pitch to handle and luckily, I didn't miss it."

The hit alone was enough to earn him the Ted Williams All-Star MVP award, becoming the first Braves player to win the honor since Fred McGriff in 1994 and just the sixth catcher in the game's 77-year history to get it.

However, it wasn't McCann's only contribution to the NL victory after entering the game in place of starting catcher Yadier Molina of the St. Louis Cardinals in the fifth inning.

In addition with handling seven different NL pitchers that gave up just one unearned run over the final five innings, he also threw out would-be base stealer Elvis Andrus -- albeit with a little help from the Texas Rangers' shortstop when he came off the bag after sliding in safely.

Such a complete performance only added to his growing reputation as one of the top catchers in the game.

While that reputation may be only now being noticed much by baseball fans outside Atlanta, it's one that has always been noted among McCann's peers.

''Catchers know. He can bang. He can flat-out rake, and the reason he doesn't get noticed very much is because he's that good of a catcher,'' Toronto Blue Jays catcher John Buck, who had a hit for the AL, told the Associated Press after the game. ''Good catchers don't get noticed. That's the job, and he's just out there every year, getting it done and being one of the best in the game.''

But the biggest gratification for McCann about his big night was being able to help the NL finally break it's 14-game winless streak against the NL, as well as earn home field advantage for the NL champion -- which could be the Braves, current leaders in the NL East -- in this fall's World Series.

"We've had to answer questions for while now about losing and the losing streak," McCann said. "It was on all our minds and we wanted to win the game.

"You're not thinking about it when you're playing. You just want to win the game. But now that I get to sit back and reflect, I'm extremely excited that we won this game (Tuesday) night. We have a really good team, the Atlanta Braves. We just have to keep playing good baseball in the second half and see what happens."