The 2013 MLB All-Star Game will be held at Citi Field in New York this season, and while David Wright has been given the keys to the game as honorary ambassador for the Mets, it's one of his teammates, Matt Harvey, who should be the first guy with the ball.
Across town, Mariano Rivera is halfway through his year-long retirement tour to end an illustrious Hall of Fame career, and despite coming out and stating he doesn't want to start the All-Star Game, well…tough. It makes too much sense for him not to.
"What I do is close the games, I don't start the games. It's a privilege and honor, but I'm not contemplating it," he told ESPNNewYork.com's Michael Mazzeo.
The quote is both magnanimous and entirely expected from the Yankee great, but it's still the wrong decision.
Rivera should start the game for the American League. Sure, he says he's a closer and would probably feel more comfortable coming out of the bullpen, but given how the game "means" something now, what are the chances Detroit Tigers manager—and American League All-Star skipper—Jim Leyland will have the chance to put Rivera on the mound in a save situation?
The story would be perfect for Rivera to get the ball in the bottom of the ninth inning to face the heart of the National League lineup and retire them in order, winning the All-Star Game for his league and finishing his 13th All-Star appearance as the American League hero. Hell, give him the MVP award to boot.
Only, the likelihood of that happening is rather slim. First, the American League would have to be leading as the game heads into the bottom of the ninth inning. Second, Leyland would have to set up his bullpen to keep Rivera as the closer instead of Joe Nathan who, based on his numbers, probably would deserve the role if the game were being played in any other city or the other option wasn't named Mo.
Last, what if the stars align and then Rivera blows the save? Wouldn't that be a disaster for both him and the American League?
Now, it's not likely that Rivera would blow an All-Star save opportunity, and Leyland can't manage a game based on "what-ifs," especially if the speculation is predicated on the greatest closer of all time blowing a save in his own city, but why even risk the scenario where he could blow the save?
I will be the first to admit that if this scenario were to happen—if Rivera were to come in to pitch the bottom of the ninth of a one-run game and get the save for the American League—I'll be one of the first to write about how poignant the ending was. Perfect, even. But that's sportswriter and baseball fan-nerd wishes. That's not sensible baseball planning.
Why hold Rivera back when the chance of a save is, at best, 50-50 heading into the game?
Circumstances will dictate the best time in the game to use someone like Rivera, and surely Nathan would understand being used in a setup role in deference to Rivera, but what if Leyland holds Rivera out too long and he doesn't get to pitch at all?
What if Nathan or another reliever comes into a tie game in the bottom of the ninth and gives up a game-winning hit with Rivera playing long toss in the pen?
That should be enough hypotheticals to make the point pretty clear. Starting Rivera is the only way to ensure he gets in the game in the proper situation to get his due from the hometown crowd.
Sure, this year's All-Star Game is in the Mets' stadium, but Rivera has meant more to New York baseball over the last 20 years than the Mets ever could.
It's not as if the American League has a lock pitcher to start the All-Star Game anyway. Max Scherzer has great numbers this season—the 13-0 record in 18 starts sure looks pretty, even if wins are hardly indicative of a pitcher's quality—with a WHIP under 0.95 and a strikeout-to-walk ratio over 5.00. Scherzer's batting average against is .200, second best of all the American League starters named to the All-Star Game to Yu Darvish. Plus, let's not forget that Scherzer is Leyland's guy.
The only other viable option for the American League would be the Seattle Mariners' Hisashi Iwakuma, is among the league leaders in several categories, including ERA (2.60), WHIP (0.88) and K/BB (5.72). Scherzer and Iwakuma are both making their All-Star debuts this season, so it stands to reason that entering the game in the second inning would be understandable, and still quite the honor, for either starter.
Rivera may say he does not want to start, but it makes to much sense for him not to.
As for Harvey, starting him is about as no-brainer as it gets.
The Mets ace deserves to start the All-Star Game no matter where the contest was held, but with Citi Field the site in 2013, any debate about another starter taking the hill should be quashed. But it's not.
Harvey is slated to start on Saturday, making an appearance in the All-Star Game a bit up in the air until the Mets can see how deep he goes into that game. Yet after his 121-pitch no-decision against the Giants on Monday night, manager Terry Collins said the Mets may be willing to accommodate Harvey by skipping his start on Saturday or, at the very least, putting him on a modified pitch count so he's fresh enough to play in the Midsummer Classic. Via MLB.com:
Before [Monday's] game, Collins, a coach on [Bruce] Bochy's staff for the All-Star Game, was questioned about Harvey's usage in the All-Star Game and if he could envision a disagreement over how his star pitcher will be used.
"Is there going to be a fight between [Bochy] and I?" Collins joked. "No, I don't think so. I'm overmatched. It will be well-thought-out before then."
Harvey has also been struggling with a blister, which would be a terrible reason to miss pitching in the All-Star Game, but could be reason enough for Bochy to pick another starter. The short list of candidates for the National League starter includes Clayton Kershaw, who leads the league in ERA, batting average against and WHIP (1.89/.186/0.90), millimeters ahead of Harvey's numbers in each category (2.27/.194/0.91). Both pitchers are 1-2 in WAR for pitchers according to Baseball-Reference.com.
There are a lot of other options for Bochy as well. Jordan Zimmermann is 12-3 with a 2.57 ERA and a WHIP under 1.00. Patrick Corbin is 10-1 for Arizona with a 2.40 ERA and a WHIP nearly as good as Zimmermann's. Wins aside*, Jeff Locke of Pittsburgh might have better numbers than both of them.
Adam Wainwright is 11-5 and has a lower ERA than both Zimmermann and Corbin and a WHIP under 1.00, with an insane strikeout-to-walk ratio of 9.00, nearly double that of the next pitcher, Cliff Lee, who himself is a viable candidate to start the All-Star game with a 10-2 record, 2.73 ERA, WHIP under 1.00 and strikeout-to-walk ratio of 5.67.
(* - I've said as often as I can that wins don't matter for pitchers, yet I still put each pitcher's record because they inexplicably still matter to some inside the game. It will be hard for an old-school manager who still believes that wins matter for a pitcher—this topic comes up every year for Hall of Fame votes, too, so don't think it is going away—to select someone like Kershaw, who is 8-5, over Corbin, Lee, Zimmermann, Locke or Harvey, who have all won more than 75 percent of their decisions. Wins shouldn't matter, but to some they still do, especially in cases like this.)
The National League has nine starters on its roster, and it would be hard to complain if as many as seven of them started the All-Star Game. Still, the decision for Bochy has to be down to Kershaw or Harvey, which makes the choice really easy for a guy who will be managing a game in the home ballpark of one of his options.
Having lived in the New York market—the Subway Series was nearly unbearable for an outsider to get through—I know how people (read: New Yorkers and those in the media) have a tendency to romanticize the greatness and lore of Big Apple sports. Things in New York matter more because of where they take place. I'm fully convinced if Mariano Rivera had won as many titles and notched as many saves in Cleveland or Kansas City as he has in New York, he wouldn't be nearly the legend he has become.
And yet he is that legend, and it is New York. Baseball's biggest stage deserves its brightest stars.
With two struggling ballclubs slogging through the hot days of summer, there is no brighter star in New York this year than Harvey. Unless it's Rivera.
Let them both start New York's All-Star Game.