Bieber, late addition to All-Star roster, wins MVP

CLEVELAND — In a 4-3 American League All-Star Game victory with no clear MVP on Tuesday, hometown favorite Shane Bieber, a right-handed starter for the Cleveland Indians, earned the honors after striking out the side in the fifth inning amid a Progressive Field-wide chant of his name.

The 24-year-old Bieber, once a walk-on at UC-Santa Barbara, caught Cubs catcher Willson Contreras looking on a 95 mph fastball, punched out Diamondbacks second baseman Ketel Marte on an 84 mph curveball and froze Braves outfielder Ronald Acuña Jr. on an 86 mph slider.

Bieber is the third player in All-Star Game history to win the MVP award in his home ballpark, joining Pedro Martinez at Fenway Park in 1999 and Sandy Alomar Jr. also in Cleveland in 1997.

During the seven-pitch at-bat against Acuña, the crowd of 36,747 chanted, “Let’s go, Bieber!” and he responded with a strikeout that prompted Indians manager Terry Francona to clap his hands excitedly. The victory extended the AL’s All-Star Game winning streak to seven games.

“I really didn’t know what to think,” Bieber said of winning MVP. “Kinda lost all feeling in my body. But it’s an incredible feeling now. Now that it’s kind of sinking in, just to be able to do it in front of the hometown crowd in my first All-Star Game is definitely not something I expected.”

Bieber wasn’t named to the All-Star team until Friday, when he replaced Rangers starter Mike Minor, who wasn’t eligible to play because he pitched Sunday.

Bieber is the first pitcher to win All-Star Game MVP since Mariano Rivera in 2013 and is just the fifth pitcher to do so in the past 40 years, joining Martinez, Roger Clemens (1986) and LaMarr Hoyt (1985). Only Bieber, Rivera and Juan Marichal (1965) have taken home MVP honors without earning a win.

Bieber — no relation to Justin Bieber, for those wondering — beat AL teammates Michael Brantley and Joey Gallo for the honors by preserving a 1-0 lead against the final three hitters in the National League’s stout lineup. Brantley staked the AL to the advantage in the stadium where he spent the first 10 years of his career with a second-inning RBI double off Dodgers left-hander Clayton Kershaw that scored Astros teammate Alex Bregman.

The 32-year-old Brantley, who joined Houston as a free agent this winter, sliced a 91 mph fastball from Kershaw into the left-center-field gap to open the scoring and hand Bieber the one-run lead he held.

“He is a phenomenal pitcher,” Brantley said. “He is gaining experience and getting better and better every time he goes out. He competes at a high level. I am so proud of him. I can’t wait to see him and tell him congratulations again. That was fun to watch.”

The award easily could have gone to Gallo, the Rangers slugger whose solo homer proved the decisive run. The 25-year-old Gallo, in the midst of a breakout season that has helped propel the surprising Rangers into contention in the AL West, walloped a first-pitch fastball from San Francisco Giants closer Will Smith into the right-field stands.

The run gave the AL a 4-1 lead that it held after a shaky eighth inning from Indians closer Brad Hand shrunk the advantage to one run. Yankees closer Aroldis Chapman struck out the side in the ninth inning to end a game in which the NL punched out 16 times.

With injuries sidelining stalwart starters Corey Kluber and Mike Clevinger and a leukemia diagnosis keeping starter Carlos Carrasco out since the end of May, Bieber has proved a vital part of the Indians rotation.

In 112⅓ innings this season, Bieber has struck out 141 and walked just 23 to go with an 8-3 record and a 3.45 ERA.

In the fifth inning, during a “Stand Up To Cancer” moment that honored those who have fought the disease, Bieber stood alongside Indians All-Star teammates Francisco Lindor, Carlos Santana and Hand with Carrasco, a widely respected 32-year-old nicknamed Cookie.

“It was unbelievable,” Bieber said. “Cookie, I’ve only known him for a year, but I can say for certain that he is one of the best teammates and best people I have ever met. Only he could turn what he is doing into a positive light, and he is going to the children’s hospital, and he is spending time with them, and he is kind of reversing it on its heels and turning it into a positive light. … We are here for him, we love him, and we are standing with him.”

Bieber’s rapid ascent since the Indians chose him in the fourth round of the 2016 draft has been aided by a significant rise in fastball velocity. He joined the Indians in May 2018 after just 50 games pitched in the minor leagues and has excelled this year, with four double-digit strikeout games, tied for fifth in the major leagues.

“I am just trying to throw strikes,” Bieber said. “I couldn’t really feel my body that much because, like I said, the electricity and the atmosphere we had going, but also you didn’t want to leave a cookie over the plate because these guys are so good, and they will take advantage of it. Really just tried to fill up the zone as much as I could and go out there and get three outs. That was the main agenda.”

ESPN Stats & Information contributed to this report.

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