Flushing, NY (Sports Network) - The 84th All-Star Game may not have started the way the New York Yankees wanted, but it ended pretty much exactly the way they would have drawn it up.
Well, almost anyway.
Mariano Rivera first caught everyone's attention back in 1996 as a setup man. so maybe it was fitting that on Tuesday, in his final All-Star appearance, that he was once again relegated to the eighth inning.
Moments after Neil Diamond performed Sweet Caroline after the top half of the eighth inning, Rivera's trademark entrance theme of "Enter Sandman" by Metallica echoed through Citi Field and gave way to one of the more memorable moments in All-Star Game history.
The 43-year-old Rivera arrived to a standing ovation and took the field alone to begin his warm-up pitches, as the American League squad remained in the dugout to allow the all-time saves leader to soak it all in.
Players from both dugouts stood and applauded the greatest reliever to ever play the game..
"It was tough. It was special," Rivera said. "To see the fans sharing and both teams standing out in the dugout, managers, coaches, players -- priceless. ... I've never been in a situation like this. The only difference is the World Series. Besides that, this has been right there."
Of course Rivera didn't disappoint, as he set the NL down 1-2-3 and was named the MVP of the game.
Now you can criticize AL manager Jim Leyland all you want for not letting Rivera be the one to close the game, but you'd be wrong. Had he let someone else pitch the eighth and the NL managed to go ahead there would be no Rivera in the ninth.
And even if the NL hadn't scored - and let's face it they could have had 20 innings, they weren't going to score - Rivera still wouldn't have been able to have that moment.
Cheering for him in the eighth is one thing, but it's another thing entirely if that was a save situation. And let's not forget, this game "counts". How do you stand and cheer for the guy who's about to close you out?
Now I guess you could argue that Leyland could have started the eighth with someone like Joe Nathan and if he got into trouble, go right to Mo.
But, then again, that moment doesn't happen. Rivera would not have had the spotlight all to himself. Leyland couldn't have handled it any better than he did. It was perfect.
"I wanted to pitch. You know the game of baseball," Rivera said. "Anything can happen. Leyland wanted to make sure that I pitch. It was a great idea. I appreciate him giving me the opportunity to do this, in New York, for the fans here. I think the plan was perfect."
With all due respect to Bruce Sutter, Goose Gossage and Dennis Eckersley, Mariano Rivera is the greatest reliever to ever play in this game.
They say that every time you go to a ballpark you are going to see something you've never seen before. Well anyone who has seen Rivera pitch can certainly say that because you will never see another pitcher like him.
Rivera has been closing since 1997. That's 17 years. And not just your run of the mill 17 years. He's just as good now as he was then. Rivera pitched to a 1.88 ERA that year. He's at 1.83 halfway through this season, a year removed by the way from ACL surgery.
Heck, I've argued that not only is he the best closer ever, but in my opinion he's the best player of this generation period.
And you want to talk about respect from your peers? Nathan recorded his first All-Star Game save on Tuesday. You know what he did with the ball? Without even batting an eye, he gave it right to Rivera.
"To match the time that (Rivera) has been doing it, I have to play another eight years," Nathan said. "I'll have to play until I'm like 46 or 47 or something. All I can do is continue to try to do my job and get the job done."
As for the rest of the game, well let's put it this way, there may not be a save next to Rivera's name in the boxscore, but he saved sportswriters around the country because other than that magical moment in the eighth there was nothing going on.
The American League pitching staff was dominant. Starter Max Scherzer was good, Chris Sale was better and the group as a whole allowed only three hits.
But the National League pitchers weren't too shabby either. Three runs in an All-Star Game is nothing to sneeze about.
But, other than Rivera the thing people will be talking about on Wednesday will be the fact that Mets' righty Matt Harvey hit the Yankees' Robinson Cano with a pitch in the first inning, forcing the second baseman out of the game.
Yankees Nation held their collective breaths, but x-Rays were negative and Cano said he expects to be ready on Friday when the Yankees return to the field.
Just a little something, though, to stoke that fire.
It was supposed to be a night that would be dominated by a pair of Mets, but wouldn't you know it, it wound up being a Yankee who stole the show.