MLB All-Star game becomes tribute to Mariano Rivera
Yankees closer reports early for work and gets amazing ovation from players and fans as the American League regains World Series control
Mariano Rivera was all set up to save his final All-Star game - or so it seemed, but manager Jim Leyland just wasn't about to take that chance.
Summoned in the eighth inning to make certain he would pitch, Rivera soaked up a 90-second standing ovation and got three straight outs while helping the American League to a 3-0 victory over the National League at New York's Citi Field.
"I think the plan was perfect," said Rivera, who took home the MVP trophy.
Rivera reported early for work and the New York Yankees' indomitable closer combined with nine other pitchers on a three-hitter as the AL snapped a three-game skid and regained homefield advantage in the World Series. Joe Nathan saved it in Rivera's place after the AL scratched out a pair of runs and got an RBI double from Jason Kipnis.
Leyland had promised Rivera would pitch. So rather than risk waiting for a save opportunity that might never come, the Detroit Tigers' skipper made his much-awaited call one inning earlier than Rivera is accustomed to, just in case of "something freaky".
"If anybody ever messed up Mariano Rivera, I can lay claim to that," Leyland said. "I just couldn't take any chance. You know, I'm probably not the most popular manager in baseball. I wanted to make sure I got out of here alive."
Robinson Cano hobbled off early after getting hit by a pitch from Mets rival Matt Harvey. X-rays were negative and Cano said he shouldn't miss any games for the Yankees.
Harvey and opposing starter Max Scherzer were among a record 39 first-time All-Stars in a game that featured four precocious players 21 or younger.
Both came out throwing 99 mph, but it was Rivera, at 43 the oldest All-Star since Carlton Fisk in 1991, who was the centre of attention in his farewell season. And on this night, with drug suspensions still looming for some of the game's biggest names, the spotlight found a player who is almost universally respected.
Baseball's career saves leader came in from the bullpen to Metallica's Enter Sandman, just like across town at Yankee Stadium, and was left alone on the field to take in a stirring ovation.
"It was a great moment. He is one of the best pitchers that's ever played this game," Tigers outfielder Torii Hunter said.
All-Stars on both sides clapped from the top of the dugout steps, and Rivera tipped his cap to the crowd.
Then he went to work, retiring three straight hitters on 16 pitches - all cutters, as usual - before walking off to another ovation and receiving a hug from Detroit ace Justin Verlander.
"It was tough. It was special," an emotional Rivera said. "Seeing the fans sharing and both teams standing out of the dugout, managers, coaches, players - priceless."
His next stop seems certain to be the Hall of Fame.
The game's greatest reliever, quiet and humble by nature, addressed his AL teammates before they took the field. He made it quick, just like his outing. Most of them, actually.
"What I said was that I was honoured and it was a privilege for me to play with all of them for so many years," Rivera said.
The lengthy cheers provided a fitting tribute and the latest salute to Rivera, set to retire after this season. The 13-time All-Star is on something of a farewell tour, receiving creative gifts at each opposing ballpark he visits for the final time.
He got a rocking chair built out of broken bats in Minnesota and a decorated surfboard and bottle of wine in Oakland.
Rivera has never allowed an earned run in nine All-Star innings.