A Rivera Moment To Remember

When the players selected to last week’s All-Star game gathered at Citi Field, there were 39 new faces ready to square off in the midsummer classic. Sure, some of them were injury replacements, but almost all of the first-timers had an interesting story.

Toronto reliever Steve Delaber was the last man voted in by special fan ballot. At 36, he was an unlikely All-Star – and maybe even an unlikely major leaguer – whose career is a testimony to perseverance.

Miami pitcher Jose Fernandez was the youngest of a group of very good young players. At 20, Fernandez is only two years removed from pitching in high school.

As in many All-Star games past, pitching dominated. As New York Mets third baseman David Wright said after the game, “It’s not fun. You think of the broad spectrum of being an All-Star and it gets you excited. And the when you get down to the nitty-gritty, and you look in there and you’ve got to face those pitchers, it’s like, ‘OK, maybe this isn’t as fun as I thought it was going to be.’ Every guy comes in throwing high 90s with good secondary pitches. And this is difficult.”

And this from a guy who got a hit, one of only three NL players to do so.

Sometime you watch a professional game and you have the silly thought that, “Hey, I might be able to do that,” even when you know it’s not close to true. But you watch pitchers such as Max Scherzer of the Tigers and Chris Sale of the White Sox and it doesn’t lend itself to even fantasy thoughts. It was magnificent to watch.

And then, with the AL leading 3-0 in the eighth, skipper Jim Leyland of the Tigers decided to call Yankee closer Mariano Rivera. Rivera trotted in, but his teammates remained in the dugout, leaving Mariano alone on the mound to soak in the standing ovation from an adoring and appreciative New York crowd. You could see his emotions, with eyes welling, as both dugouts with managers, coaches and players all applauding the greatest closer who ever climbed a mound. It was a spectacular sports moment. I’ve spoken to three grizzled, jaded writers who each said it was the most fantastic moment they’ve ever witnessed at any sporting event.

Rivera then retired the side on 16 pitches, all of them cutters, his trademark pitch.

Leyland was questioned why he didn’t wait for the ninth inning to bring in Rivera, but he knew that if the home team National Leaguers went ahead in the eighth and the AL didn’t respond, there wouldn’t be a bottom of the ninth.

Rivera was selected the MVP as there was no obvious star – no player got more than a single hit and there were no homers.

Some on social media were upset with the choice, but it seemed so appropriate. Sure, it was sort of a lifetime achievement award, but no player has ever conducted himself with more class, grace and dignity. He was vintage Mariano afterward, grabbing a microphone to thank the fans for the chance to play in front of them and walking off, humble to the end.

All of which makes it so gratifying that, with Rivera bowing out, so many great young players are rising in this marvelous game.