Tuesday night’s MLB All-Star Game may have been a bit of a disappointment for fans of offense, but my experience at Citi Field provided plenty of thrills and chills. The experience at the Mets’ home ballpark during the AL’s 3-0 win had a little bit of everything -- big strikeouts from Matt Harvey, a hit from home team hero David Wright, a fan on the field, a triple (!!!!) from Prince Fielder, a mascot race, Neil Diamond performing “Sweet Caroline” and finally, a chill-inducing tribute to Yankees’ closer Mariano Rivera. Which is what I want to talk about.
I’ve seen rumblings on the internet griping about Jim Leyland’s decision to pitch Mariano in the 8th inning instead of his traditional 9th, with the AL leading 3-0. These gripers feel robbed of their chance to see the Greatest Closer of All Time get a save in his 13th and final All-Star Game. I do get their perspective and in an ideal world, Mariano gets both the incredible tribute and the save. But for me (and I hope for many others), I’d rather have a guaranteed appearance by Mariano than risk him not pitching at all, even if the risk was admittedly small.
This All-Star Game in Mariano’s final season wasn’t about seeing Rivera register a save in the game (he already has an ML-best four career All-Star Game saves). The priority should have been and rightfully was making sure the crowd, the players and everybody else at Citi Field last night had a chance to give Mo the send-off he so richly deserves. Leyland’s call to have Rivera start the 8th inning provided all that and more.
I’ve heard “Enter Sandman” hundreds of times in person at Yankee Stadium over the past 14 years since the Yankees introduced that as Mariano’s entrance song in 1999. Each time is a thrill. It signifies the arrival of the Greatest Closer of All Time. I stand and cheer like a madwoman. I consider it a gift to have witnessed Mariano perform his magic so consistently for so many years. I confess I’m having a hard time dealing with his retirement at the end of this season. But when I heard the opening chords at Citi Field last night, chills went up and down my spine. This was the reason I wanted to be at this game. This moment and all that followed was why Jim Leyland had Mariano enter the game in the 8th Inning.
As Mariano trotted out from the bullpen in right center field, the crowd of 45,186 (the largest crowd in Citi Field history) rose as one in a standing ovation. The Citi Field public address announcer, Alex Anthony, made the announcement: “Now pitching...Number 42...Mariano Rivera.” Regardless of your team allegiance -- I spotted Mets, Yankees, Phillies, Braves, Blue Jays, Twins, Angels and Twins fans around our section -- you stood for Mariano. The pitchers in both bullpens came out beyond the gates to express their appreciation. The AL and NL All-Stars stood along the railings in each dugout, applauding Rivera.
“Enter Sandman” continued unabated for a good three minutes as Rivera bowed and tipped his cap to the crowd. The overwhelming emotion in the air was palpable. A chant of “MAR-I-A-NO-clap-clap-clap-clap-clap” spontaneously sprung up in the outfield sections. The American League team didn’t take the field until the applause had subsided, since they had decided to stay in their dugout for Mo’s ovation. It was truly perfect.
Kudos to Jim Leyland for setting up this scenario where Mariano could enter the game to his signature song, get the ovation he deserved and mow down the National League in order to earn MVP honors. Who who could complain? Nobody really stood out in this game with such little offense and this was Mariano’s night in his city. Are we really going to care that it was Joe Nathan who registered the save? That’s a footnote. Hell, even Joe Nathan knew nobody cared about him on this night -- the Rangers’ closer gave the game ball to Rivera.
We will always remember the 2013 All-Star Game as Mariano Rivera’s night regardless of what the final box score says. And that’s how it should be.