For the New York Mets it might have been “Matt Harvey Day,’’ but Mariano Rivera stole the night. It isn’t often you can orchestrate things in Major League Baseball, but that’s what happened. While no player is bigger than the game, there are some who define it by their presence and their greatness transcends the moment.
There was Ted Williams in 1999, surrounded by both teams in the Fenway Park infield. The Team of the Century Game, you might recall. They didn’t even need the game, they would have cheered Williams all night.
It was that way when Cal Ripken’s streak was broken and Joe Torre’s Yankees stood at the top step of their Camden Yards dugout in a long ovation. And, how about Ripken’s last All-Star Game, when he homered in Seattle?
Great theatre and it was such when Rivera ran out for the eighth inning and took his bows with nobody else on the diamond. That was symbolic as there is nobody like Rivera. For nearly two minutes they cheered the greatest closer in history. It didn’t matter he was a Yankee; all of baseball honored him.
“I didn’t know how to act,’’ Rivera said. “At that moment, I didn’t know what to do. It almost made me cry. It was close. It was amazing. I will never forget that.’’
As he often has, Rivera set the side down in order 1-2-3, and as he jogged off the field, Tigers first baseman Prince Fielder – whose father, Cecil, won a World Series ring with Rivera – pressed the ball in the modest closer’s glove.
Justin Verlander greeted Rivera first after the eighth with a long embrace. I couldn’t help but wonder if Verlander whispered in his ear, “I wish you had been on my team all these years.’’
Then again, there’s probably not a starter in the game who hasn’t wondered the same.
American League manager Jim Leyland is as old school as they come, but did a marvelous job planning the moment. Ideally, it should have been the ninth inning, but if the National League had taken the lead Rivera wouldn’t have gotten in the game.
“I wanted to make sure I got out of here alive,’’ Leyland said.
It was interesting to see Rivera’s peers – the opponents he has tormented over the years – respond to him. The Orioles Chris Davis could be seen shooting a video of Rivera on his cell phone. David Wright would tell Rivera how proud he was of how he handled himself.
“Things like that, that come from young boys like that, it is good,’’ Rivera said. “They know why you do it. That’s great.’’
While others had a bigger role in the game’s outcome, Rivera was voted the Most Valuable Player in a gesture of appreciation and respect.
With Rivera working the eighth, it was Joe Nathan who pitched the ninth to earn his first All-Star save. The ball will never make Nathan’s mantle as he gave it to Rivera.
“It showed respect to me,’’ Rivera would say. “It was a classy thing to do.’’
Classy and respect. That’s what Rivera has always been about.
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