ANAHEIM -- Brian McCann knew he had the hopes of the National League on his shoulders when he came up to bat with the bases loaded and his team trailing by a run with two outs in the seventh inning.
"This is something you dream about," he said. "I mean, to be in a situation like that -- just to be in the game, to share a locker room with these guys -- as a kid, this is what you dream about when you play baseball."
Well, sometimes dreams do come true. The Braves catcher slammed a double down the right-field line at Angel Stadium against left-hander Matt Thornton to clear the bases, accounting for all the NL's runs in a 3-1 victory over the American League, its first since 1996. McCann, the backup to Yadier Molina, was named the Ted Williams All-Star MVP presented by Chevrolet, the first member of the Braves to be awarded that honor since Fred McGriff in 1994. The black bat McCann used is on its way to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y. And for the first time since the rule was enacted in 2003, the NL will have home-field advantage in the World Series by virtue of winning the All-Star Game. "The game counts," McCann said. "It means more to me this year than years past, because we are in first place. You think about it more when you're sitting in that position instead of coming here 10, 12 games out. Home-field advantage is exactly that. It's a home-field advantage." This year, the last as manager for Bobby Cox, who said he's retiring, the Braves came into the break in first place in the NL East, leading the Mets by four games and the Phillies by 4 1/2 games. The Braves have 74 games left to play, so there's no telling what might happen. But if they go to the World Series for the first time since 1999, the Braves will have McCann to thank for doing what he did on this warm summer night. "You just come and play, you think about it afterwards," McCann said. "I'm sitting here now and reflecting on it, and it's nice to be in first place and it's nice to have a chance to hopefully play in the playoffs and go further. So right now, this is a good feeling." McCann was on the bench when NL manager Charlie Manuel sent him up to pinch-hit for Molina against Justin Verlander with two outs and runners on the corners in the fifth inning. Manuel, who managed the NL to another loss in St. Louis in 2009, knew what he had to do. "It's tough, because Molina is a very good defensive player," Manuel said about the decision. "I've been in this game the last two years and we have had trouble scoring. McCann [generates] more offense than Molina, and that's why I put him up there." It was a rough six-pitch at-bat, but in the end, McCann flied out to right, ending the threat. "You're facing Justin Verlander and that's not an easy at-bat," McCann said. "He beat me on a fastball, 97, 98 [mph] up in the zone. So I was just glad to come back on my second at-bat." In the seventh, AL manager Joe Girardi opened with Phil Hughes, who allowed a pair of singles with one out. In came Thornton. Pinch-hitter Chris Young popped out, and Marlon Byrd walked on a tough full-count pitch to load the bases. McCann knew that it might be the NL's best and last chance to win the game and that he had to come through. "You see the quality of arms that both [leagues] are throwing out there on a nightly basis," McCann said. "That's why it's the year of the pitcher. I can speak for my division. You have to face Roy Halladay and Josh Johnson, and every single night you're going out [against] quality arms. Everybody knew [this] was going to be a low-scoring game." McCann fouled the first pitch down the right-field line and was just praying that it would get in the stands, which it did. The next pitch, he smacked into the books for all eternity. "Thornton has got one of the best left-handed fastballs in the game," McCann said. "I sat on the fastball and tried to get my hands going a little early. I got a pitch to handle, and luckily, I didn't miss it."