All-Star competitors take turns paying tribute to Mariano Rivera
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Jim Leyland, at times lovably irascible, showed a softer side Monday while discussing his perfect scenario for Tuesday night's 84th All-Star Game.
"I think it would be the most beautiful touch in the world," the AL manager said, "if we could somehow get a lead on the National League and play the ninth inning with the greatest closer of all time coming out of the bullpen."
To which Rivera said with a broad smile: "That's why I am here. That's what I'd love to do."
Leyland was asked what will happen if the save situation doesn't develop. He said: "You can rest assured he will be on the mound at some point and you will see him pitch . . . You will see No. 42 pitch.''
And nobody, as players and coaches said Monday, has ever done that better than Rivera.
It has become a statement of the obvious to call the 43-year-old the best closer in history, but pitchers and hitters from both leagues seemed almost giddy about giving their take Monday. It will be their last chance to do so; before the season, Rivera, who has 30 saves in 32 opportunities and a 1.83 ERA, announced his intention to retire.
"The respect level is through the roof," Boston's Dustin Pedroia said. "The way he goes about his business. Just first-class . . . You know what he's throwing and you still can't hit it. It's a bad feeling."
That main pitch, of course, is Rivera's famed cutter -- often imitated, never duplicated.
"It's truly remarkable when that guy walks out on the mound, you know what he's throwing and you still can't hit it," said Mets manager Terry Collins, an NL coach for the All-Star Game. "That just separates him from everyone else. It's the same pitch and people can't hit it. As good as these guys are, that tells you how good he is."
Marco Scutaro, an All-Star infielder with the Giants, is one of the few players to have a walk-off homer off Rivera. The three-run shot came April 15, 2007, when he was with the Athletics. Scutaro still sounded amazed that it actually happened. "You could give me another 1,000 ABs against him and I don't think I'm going to hit a homer," he said. "The ball just found my barrel. It was something else."
"I think he's given up less than men that have stepped on the moon," said Pirates closer Jason Grilli (29 saves).
Not quite. Twelve men have walked on the moon and five have hit walk-off shots against Rivera. But you get his point.
Giants closer Sergio Romo (21 saves), who primarily throws a slider, was interested in cornering Rivera for a quick chat. "I'm kind of a one-pitch guy," he said. "I have other pitches, but I'm more known for one. He's known for arguably the best pitch ever, so if anything, it'd just be to ask him how do you stay confident with that pitch, how do you keep it tight and crisp and just as consistent as he is?"
Braves closer Craig Kimbrel (26 saves) was another pitcher -- there were more than a few -- who hoped for a few minutes with Rivera. "Just things like when he's struggled, how did he get past it?" Kimbrel said. "For him to do what he did, you want to know what his mind-set was and how he thought and how he kept himself prepared for 19 years. That's amazing."
Rivera, told of the young pitchers hoping for some time, smiled. "We will make the time for it," he said. "These young boys have abilities, so why not? I'm not going to take it with me."
Pedroia said he's not entirely sure Rivera won't be around next year to answer those questions.
"I'm still not sold it's his last year," he said. "He's dealing."