It was just one inning, and not even the ninth inning, but Mariano Rivera‘s outing during the 2013 Major League Baseball All Star Game on Tuesday night was one that will live in the memories of baseball fans forever.
The All-Star Game has been a spectacle of romantic moments for the better part of the past 20 years. Ted Williams being surrounded by the game’s greats in Boston in 1999 stands out in my mind, as does Cal Ripken‘s final appearance in a Mid-Summer Classic, when Alex Rodriguez pushed him over to short to start the game.
There was simply no way that American League skipper Jim Leyland was going to risk not getting Rivera into the game. With the National League hosting, if they had somehow claimed the lead in the late innings, there would be no ninth inning for Rivera to pitch. So, to be safe, Leyland deployed a plan to use the greatest closer in the history of the sport as a set-up man; a role he hasn’t filled since his very early days with the Yankees.
With the AL holding a 3-0 lead entering the bottom of the eighth, Metallica’s Enter Sandman began pounding through the Citi Field speakers and Mo emerged from the bullpen. As he trotted out to the mound, with the whole stadium standing and cheering, both bullpens, both dugouts full of players and coaches stood as well and applauded in salute of Rivera and his incredible career.
Leyland’s club stayed on the sidelines as Rivera stood on the mound for what seemed like an eternity. The fans and players alike continued their salute to the greatest of all-time. It almost didn’t matter that Rivera’s inning was an uneventful 17 pitches. Three up, Three down.
Were there others in Tuesday’s game that had more of an impact on the outcome? Of course there were. Chris Sale was dominant for two innings, and Miguel Cabrera doubled, scored, and turned in two sparkling defensive plays at third. But there wasn’t a player on either roster who has had the impact that Rivera has had on the game as a whole over the better part of 20 years in the big leagues. So long as he was even semi-effective on the hill on Tuesday, Rivera was probably going to get the award.
This game counts, they say, as Baseball uses it to determine home field in the World Series. They did this to restore some of the competitiveness to what had become nothing more than an exhibition. On Tuesday, Citi Field saw a little bit of both and the salute to Rivera was a moment that will be counted among the greatest in All-Star Game history.