Regardless of what you think of manager Jim Leyland’s logic for pitching Mariano Rivera in the eighth inning as opposed to the ninth inning of the All-Star Game, nothing could take away from the moment of Rivera’s last inning, last 16 pitches and last All-Star appearance.
Rivera entrance to the familiar strains of Metallica’s “Enter Sandman,” with everyone from both teams standing on the top steps of the dugout to express their appreciation, was among the most memorable moments in All-Star history.
“It felt so weird,” Rivera said. “Basically I was there along with my catcher. I don’t know how to act. At that moment, I didn’t know what to do, just keep throwing the ball I guess, because it was so weird. But at the same time, I mean, I definitely appreciate that what they did for me.”
Rivera was named the MVP, an emotional moment for perhaps the most humble of players of all time. He accepted the award and enthusiastically thanked the crowd.
“You guys are the best,” Rivera told the crowd. “Thank you, New York. It’s been a privilege. You guys made me cry.”
The move to Rivera was made by one baseball lifer from a small town in Ohio to another from a small fishing village in Panama.
“I thought it was wonderful by the fans but I expected it to be,” Leyland said. “This is New York; obviously it’s a different place. I can’t imagine how Joe Torre and Joe Girardi feel bringing that guy in the ninth inning. That’s a pretty good feeling but tonight it was the eighth inning and if anyone ever messed up Mariano Rivera, I can lay the claim to that.”
Rivera had not pitched in the All-Star Game since closing out the 2009 game in St. Louis. There was no save situation in his 2010 or 2011 appearances.
Leyland seemed to disappoint many by only pitching him in the eighth since Rivera was not going to pitch two innings. Many felt Leyland could or should have brought in Rivera in if there was a man on base but that chatter mattered little to the greatest closer of all time, who described the moment as “priceless” in a dugout interview with FOX.
“I wanted to pitch,” said Rivera, who has made nine appearances in the All-Star Game. “You know the game of baseball. Anything can happen.”
The honor of pitching the ninth went to Stony Brook alum Joe Nathan, but Rivera felt the plan Leyland devised in bating practice was perfectly fine despite the objections of many.
“He said that depends how the game goes, and what happened if we were winning by one or two runs and we have a chance to pitch in the eighth, I will pitch in the eighth because for sure he wanted to make sure he pitched me,” Rivera said. “That’s the reason that I pitched the eighth inning and not the ninth inning. You don’t know what can happen in the game of baseball. Anything can happen and it happens quick, great players. And the decision was OK and we won. That was the important thing.”
The opening batter of Rivera’s last All-Star appearance was Milwaukee rookie shortstop Jean Segura. Segura, who was 6 years old when Rivera first recorded a save on May 17, 1996, saw four pitches and grounded out to second.
The next batter was St. Louis’s Allan Craig, who was 11 when Rivera first recorded a save, saw five pitches before lifting a line drive that required left fielder Alex Gordon to make a nice running catch.
The final batter was Milwaukee’s Carlos Gomez. The former Met was 10 when Rivera first recorded a save and he saw six pitches before grounding out to shortstop Jhonny Peralta.
“It was moving,” NL manager Bruce Bochy said. “What’s he’s accomplished in his career and the person that he is, I can’t say I know him but I’ve heard enough that he’s such a class person and a great ambassador to the game. So for him to get honored like that was moving, a very special moment and our players they showed their respect and appreciation. So it’s a really neat deal which he richly deserves.”
Follow Yankees beat writer Larry Fleisher on Twitter @LarryFleisher.