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NL's win may deliver Braves a fall reward

NL's win may deliver Braves a fall reward

ANAHEIM -- If the Braves -- current owners of the National League's best record -- continue their run deep into October, they will look back at July 13 as a critical juncture in their run for a second championship.

On a night when pitching stole the show early Tuesday, it was All-Star MVP Brian McCann's clutch two-out double that lifted the NL to its first All-Star Game win over the American League -- a 3-1 victory at Angels Stadium -- since 1996.

Ending the streak is a relief, yes. And bragging rights are nice. But for the Braves, who believe they are set up for a deep postseason run in manager Bobby Cox's final year, Tuesday's victory held plenty of added significance.

For the NL pennant winner, McCann's hit means home-field advantage. And the weight of that benefit wasn't lost on any of the Braves' five All-Star representatives afterward.

"Obviously, everyone understands the importance of today, especially the teams that are going to be potentially in the World Series, the players representing those teams," fellow Braves All-Star Tim Hudson said. "We've played well at home this year. It would definitely be a big deal for us."

There's still the task of getting into the World Series, of course -- "That's the goal that we're looking for," was how second baseman Martin Prado put it. But if the Braves do go on to earn their first postseason berth since 2005, their catcher's clutch at-bat in the seventh on Tuesday is sure to be revisited.

"[The outcome means] a little bit [more] this year than years past because we are in first place," McCann added. "You think about it more when you're sitting in that position instead of coming here 10 games out, 12 games out."

McCann entered the contest as a pinch-hitter in the fifth. He had a chance to push across the game's first run, but with runners on the corners and two outs, McCann lifted a deep fly ball that Texas' Josh Hamilton grabbed at the warning track.

McCann came up in a similar situation two innings later. This time, though the Atlanta catcher didn't blink. Facing White Sox reliever Matt Thornton, McCann lined a two-out bases-clearing double into the right-field corner that turned a one-run deficit into a 3-1 NL advantage.

The hit stuck as the game-winner, as well as the first hit for the now five-time All-Star.

"It felt great," said McCann, who joins Fred McGriff (1994) as the only Atlanta player to win an All-Star MVP Award. "This is something you dream about, I mean, to be in a situation like that, just to be in a game, to share a locker room with these guys. It's a moment I'll never forget, and you know, tonight was just ... I was lucky enough to be in a situation to come through."

McCann was one of two Atlanta players to appear in Tuesday's game, though the team was represented by five, the most for any Braves club since 2003.

Prado started at second in place of an injured Chase Utley and played 5 1/2 innings. Batting in the No. 2 hole, he finished 0-for-3 with two groundouts and a popout.

Prado admitted hours beforehand that nerves were already getting to him -- "You will see it in my face," he joked. It couldn't have helped, either, that his trio of at-bats came against Tampa Bay's David Price, Texas' Cliff Lee and Boston's Jon Lester. None of the three has an ERA above 2.78.

It wasn't the results, though, that Prado said he would leave with. It's the sense of belonging that he developed over the two-day span.

"I look around and say, 'Wow, this guy has been here for like 10 years and this is my first year,'" said Prado, who leads all NL hitters with a .325 batting average and 121 hits. "I feel like sometimes I don't belong here. But then with the way I played in the first half, I do feel like I belong.

"I've been talking with a lot of these guys about hitting and trying to get different perspectives. That's how I'm going to get better. Everybody in this room has done something special."

Atlanta's three other representatives had only a spectator's view on Tuesday.

Hudson was available, but never called on by NL manager Charlie Manuel. Omar Infante had been selected for the team primarily because of his versatility, and the need for a utility player never really came into play. Jason Heyward, who is on the disabled list with a left thumb injury, was ineligible from the start.

For Hudson, Tuesday was much more about the journey than any one game. In his first full season back from Tommy John surgery, the 34-year-old right-hander admitted that this All-Star selection meant something more than the first two given what it took to get back here.

"Even last year, when I did come back, I didn't think I was going to be feeling good enough to make an All-Star team a year from there," Hudson said. "During the offseason when I was throwing with [former teammate] Buddy Carlyle, I was like, 'Man, I hope this isn't teasing me.' It was almost like I was waiting for my arm to all of a sudden say, 'OK, back up, old guy.' But it never did."

Infante heads back to Atlanta with plenty of video-camera footage, the highlights of which, he said, came in Monday's State Farm Home Run Derby, when he took his 1-year-old son down on the field with him.

And despite some of the public skepticism behind his inclusion on the NL roster, Infante appreciated being embraced by his All-Star teammates.

"The players say, 'Congratulations. Enjoy it,'" he said. "It's been pretty special. I never thought in my life that I would come here. I've seen a lot of good players. I'm pretty happy. I've enjoyed it a lot."

Though unable to participate, Heyward said that all it took was the green light from general manager Frank Wren and Cox to choose to join his teammates in Anaheim. Convinced, like everyone else, that this won't be his last All-Star appearance, he used the trip to California to simply mingle among the game's best.

Heyward was joined by 18 family members and friends, and thanks to his teammate, Heyward left seeing his first NL All-Star victory. The 20-year-old was too young -- six, in fact -- to remember the last time the NL came out on top.

"It was a great experience to come out here and be a part of an elite group," Heyward said. "I didn't have any expectations. I didn't want to. But I've enjoyed it. It's been a great opportunity, a great experience."

Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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{"content":["all-star_game" ] }