CLEVELAND – Just a few days ago, Shane Bieber was looking forward to some time off over the All-Star break.
Instead, a whirlwind week hit its apex Tuesday with the Cleveland Indians’ right-hander being named Most Valuable Player of the 2019 All-Star Game at his home ballpark.
The 24-year-old only became an All-Star on Friday night, being named as a replacement for Texas Rangers lefty Mike Minor.
"To be able to do it in front of the home crowd and my first All-Star Game is definitely not something I expected, especially being added to the game four or five days ago," Bieber said.
Bieber pitched a perfect fifth inning on Tuesday night, striking out Willson Contreras, Ketel Marte and Ronald Acuña Jr. in order and was credited with the hold in the American League’s 4-3 win at Progressive Field.
Bieber holds the MVP trophy after Tuesday's All-Star Game. (Photo: Ken Blaze, Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports)
The fans in Cleveland went nuts, chanting his name as he got set to pitch to the third batter of the inning.
"I kind of stepped off the back of the mound after one of the pitches and wasn't totally able to look up and see everything, just because there was so much going on, but I heard everything and really soaked it all in," Bieber said.
What a performance by Shane Bieber. He strikes out the side as chants of “Let’s Go Bieber!” echo throughout the ballpark. pic.twitter.com/eUKGq1nte5
Bieber is just the third player to win the MVP award in his home ballpark, joining Cleveland's Sandy Alomar Jr. here in 1997 and Boston's Pedro Martinez at Fenway Park in 1999.
"I didn't really know what to think," Bieber said of learning that he had been named the game's MVP. "I kind of lost all feeling in my body."
American League manager Alex Cora certainly took note of the young righty, who came highly recommended by Indians skipper Terry Francona.
"Talking to Tito, he's a great person," Cora said of Bieber. "It was electric out there. The fans got into it and it was fun. I'm glad that he got the MVP. He plays at this level. He's really good."
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Drafted by the Indians in the fourth round of the 2016 draft out of UC-Santa Barbara, Bieber was in the majors less than two years later.
After having a tough time finding consistency as a rookie, Bieber is thriving in his second big-league season.
He's 8-3 with a 3.45 ERA, including 141 strikeouts in 112 ⅓ innings and his ascent has been all the more crucial considering the injuries to Cleveland’s rotation.
Two-time Cy Young winner Corey Kluber hasn’t pitched since May 1, Mike Clevinger just came back after more than two months on the shelf and Carlos Carrasco has been out since the beginning of June, recently revealing he was diagnosed with leukemia.
The surging Indians are 21-8 since June 2 and have cut six games off the Minnesota Twins' lead in the AL Central over that span, heading into the break 5 ½ games back.
"They always have our back, no matter what, even when we were a little bit further down in the standings earlier in the year," said of the fan support. "Now that we're making a push at it, you can definitely feel the momentum especially from the city."
Said Cora: "There's a reason the Indians are playing the way they're playing and he's one of them."
Bieber didn't have much time to prepare for his All-Star debut, but his Indians teammates helped him navigate the craziness of the week.
"Brad (Hand) and Carlos (Santana) kind of took me under their wing this weekend," Bieber said. "Brad and Frankie (Lindor) having been there a couple of times themselves, they told me to just enjoy it, it's going to be a lot – and it sure was – but to just take it all in as much as I could."
Just a year ago, those very same teammates got the DJ at Progressive Field to play Justin Bieber's 2009 classic, "Baby," as he warmed up on the mound before a start.
Shane Bieber enjoyed that prank but he got the last laugh Tuesday, standing on that very same field, receiving the keys to a new truck as he hoisted the MVP trophy.
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