New York Yankees closer Mariano Rivera has made his last appearance in a Major League Baseball All-Star Game as a player. The all-time leader in saves is calling it a career at the end of 2013 and got a very appropriate sendoff from a very Met-heavy crowd in Citi Field.
Rather than just talk you through Rivera's final Midsummer Classic, which included a scoreless inning of work and an MVP award, I figured it would be more fun to give you a full visual experience of what the future Hall of Famer got this week through video, social media and other venues.
At the age of 43, Rivera announced prior to the season that he would be retiring whenever the Yankees finished play this year. Considering where they are and the strength of the American League East, that end could come at the end of September instead of October.
Yet despite Rivera's advanced age, he has been nothing short of remarkable for the Yankees. Relievers in the All-Star Game are used too often, but he is the one exception because he's found a way to maintain that consistently high level of performance in a role that lends itself to volatility.
So as we, like so many others this season, pay tribute to the end of one of the biggest stars of the last generation, here are the moments that defined Rivera's All-Star experience at Citi Field.
Talking About the End
Even before having to worry about game day, Rivera spoke with reporters on Monday about what it means playing one more All-Star Game, having it take place in New York and making it back one year after tearing his ACL.
You don't want to say that Major League Baseball planned this whole thing out, because no one could have known that Rivera was going to retire the same season that the All-Star Game was in New York. But when you look at it right now, it is hard to imagine a more fitting way for the baseball world to say goodbye to such an important and revered figure.
The fact that Rivera was able to return at the age of 43 after tearing his ACL and have a 1.83 ERA with a 32-7 strikeout-to-walk ratio in the first half is remarkable.
The Pregame Speech
Not exactly the most boisterous person in the world, Rivera did take center stage in the locker room before the game started to share his thoughts on what this game meant, what being part of the AL team meant and what a win would mean for him.
Shortly after Rivera's pregame pep talk, Boston Red Sox slugger David Ortiz told Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports that you would never know Rivera was getting ready to play in his final All-Star Game.
Quoting the Peers and Social Media
A lot of things can and often are said about a person upon retiring that rarely match up with the consensus opinion on them when they were playing. But Rivera is a different animal from 99.9 percent of athletes.
In addition to the respect that opposing teams have shown him this season by showering him with gifts and memorabilia, Rivera has taken it upon himself to personally visit with some of the unsung heroes (ticket takers, vendors, etc.)of the ballpark prior to games.
Now, on this stage, Rivera gets honored by his peers with words of love, admiration, reverence and respect.
Carlos Beltran of the St. Louis Cardinals had the best line about Rivera's legacy, which he shared with Andrew Marchand of ESPN New York. "I don't think I have any favorite memories. I have so many broken bats, though [laughs]."
Washington Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper, who is young enough (20) to be Rivera's son, said during the All-Star Game press conferences on Monday that he would have no idea how to hit that cutter (h/t USA Today). "Hopefully I don’t have to face him, so I don’t have to see that cutter. I should go up there with a tee-ball bat if I have to do that."
But the players weren't the only ones commenting on Rivera's final All-Star experience. Fans and media members got in on the fun too, posting thoughts on how the Yankee great is feeling on Tuesday.
Jen Royle of WEEI in Boston talked about a nice conversation she had with Rivera before the All-Star game.
Here is a collection of the best quotes from Rivera and others about his final appearance in the Midsummer Classic.
The In-Game Experience
After all the pregame fireworks were done, it was eventually time for Rivera to take his turn in the pitching rotation. However, thanks to manager Jim Leyland's paranoia about bullpens blowing leads, Rivera was brought on to pitch the eighth inning.
We all know Rivera should have pitched the ninth, but it is hard to envision a better moment than the one we got. Coming out right after Neil Diamond finished a lackluster rendition of "Sweet Caroline," New York was brought to its feet by the sounds of "Enter Sandman."
Rivera ran to the mound with the players from both teams staying in the dugout to allow the Yankees legend an opportunity to soak in the moment and adoration from the crowd. It also helped that the players, coaches and umpires were all standing and cheering.
Then, in typical Rivera fashion, he pitched a quiet, efficient inning with no hits allowed and no strikeouts before ending his All-Star career.
Just watching the video is enough to give you goosebumps. It shows how much the rest of the league respects what Rivera has been for so many years and how important he is to baseball.
After Joe Nathan retired Pedro Alvarez to end the game, he embraced Rivera and handed him the ball from the final out.
Postgame Parting Words
Rivera had a hard time keeping his emotions back after coming out of the game, saying that the final moments were nothing less than incredible (h/t ESPN.com). "It was tough. It was special. Seeing the fans sharing and both teams standing out of the dugout, managers, coaches players, priceless."
Everything that happened over the last two days is impossible to quantify. Baseball is a funny game, with a lot of unpredictable things that can happen. Rivera retiring is actually a symbol of the change that will happen at the end of the year.
Playing a position that, by its very nature, is not conducive to long-term success, Rivera has always been the one constant. He never gets hurt, at least not in the way that most relievers do. His ability to pick hitters apart with just one pitch has been remarkable.
Now, as we say goodbye, at least from the All-Star Game, Rivera can know just how the entire world felt about him by the warm reception in Citi Field on Tuesday, the love and respect given in the last two days and the countless articles praising his immense talent.
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