Mariano Rivera steals the show, and it's an instant All-Star classic
For the first time, and probably the last of his Mets career, Matt Harvey was the warm-up act Tuesday night at Citi Field.
And when the headliner is Mariano Rivera, there is no shame in that.
What began as a distinctly Mets celebration, with the ceremonial first pitch thrown by The Franchise himself, it was a Yankee who stole the show. But in such heartwarming fashion that not even the most militant of the Flushing faithful could be upset by the turn of events.
Instead, Mets fans got to share in history, one of the purest baseball moments the All-Star Game has ever staged. And it happened at Citi Field. That alone is something for the building's regular tenants to be proud of.
The last time Rivera stood on the Citi mound, the Mets beat him in what has to be considered this season's most memorable Mets win -- for the very reason it came against Rivera.
This time, there was no room in the stadium for haters, nothing but an eagerness to witness a truly great moment, and the last of its kind, one that will never be seen again in New York or anywhere else.
Harvey had his two scoreless innings to shine, striking out three and walking off the field to a standing ovation. David Wright left his mark with a single in the seventh.
But those snapshots were flipped aside as soon as the first chords of Metallica's "Enter Sandman" were heard midway through the eighth inning. Taking no chances, AL manager Jim Leyland called down for Rivera a bit earlier than usual, not wanting to gamble with his 3-0 lead, or ruin what he figured to be the dream shot.
A day earlier, Leyland promised that "No. 42" would get in this All-Star Game, whether it was a save situation or not. He knew it had to happen, but Leyland didn't know the how or when. What if the game was a blowout and the stadium was half-empty by the time it was Rivera's turn?
Instead, Leyland could not have scripted it any better. When the bullpen door opened, and Rivera trotted onto the grass, he was alone on the field, with both teams staying put in the dugouts. When Rivera arrived at the mound, every player was on his feet, applauding, with every corner of Citi Field doing the same.
"Amazing," Rivera said afterward. "I can't describe it. I have no words for it."
The performance itself, for all the emotion, was ordinary. Jean Segura grounded to second base. Allen Craig flied to leftfield. Carlos Gomez, the former Met, bounced out on a sharply hit one-hopper to short. It felt too quick.
But that is the essence of Rivera, ruthlessly efficient. So what better way is there to remember him? When it was over, Salvador Perez, the Royals catcher, put his arm around Rivera as they walked toward the dugout. Justin Verlander met Rivera at the front railing and embraced him.
By then, there still was an inning left to play, but all anyone cared about was Rivera. The two Mets were finished. Robinson Cano, his bruised thigh securely wrapped, had been put on ice until Friday. From now on, when people talk about the 2013 All-Star Game, they will bring up Rivera and little else.
Do you remember the night "Enter Sandman" played for Rivera in Citi Field? Were you lucky enough to see the last All-Star performance of the game's greatest closer?
The Midsummer Classic always has the best intentions. But with such a made-for-TV event, there are bound to be missteps, tributes that feel hollow or forced. That was not the case with Rivera. His was on point, like everything else Rivera does. Maybe you didn't like that Leyland used him for the hold rather than the save, but that's a minor detail.
Rivera has closed plenty of games. On this night, he saved it from being ordinary or boring. Citi Field got its classic, just not the way the Mets imagined it. With Rivera, there could have been no better ending.