Why Didn't the Greatest Closer of All Time Finish the All-Star Game?
Mariano Rivera's final MLB All-Star Game appearance was a good one. It was exciting and emotional and should certainly prove to be memorable in the long run.
The legendary New York Yankees closer's final Midsummer Classic Tuesday night was not, however, the one thing so many people wanted it to be:
The stage was set perfectly at Citi Field for Mo to come in and record the dramatic save. The American League had a 2-0 lead through seven and a 3-0 lead after batting in the top of the eighth. It was looking like a save situation and, thus, a Rivera situation.
But while his side was batting in the top of the eighth, AL manager Jim Leyland had Rivera warming up in the bullpen. And when it was time for the bottom of the eighth, there was Mo trotting in from the bullpen for...drumroll...a hold.
Mo doesn't do holds; or, at least, Mo hasn't done holds since 2002. Mo does saves in the ninth inning, and what Leyland sent him out there for was not a save in the ninth inning. And the general consensus, so far as I could tell by monitoring things on Twitter, was something along the lines of, "Man, this sucks."
Yeah, yeah—it did. But let's give Leyland this much credit: His line of thinking was at least understandable.
It was a bit of a bummer, but the night would have been an absolute catastrophe for Leyland and Major League Baseball if Mo didn't pitch at all. And given the situation of the game, it wouldn't have taken much for that to happen.
Had the NL taken the lead and then protected it in the top of the ninth, the game would have been over, Mo would have been left in the bullpen, and many, many people would have been infuriated.
So Leyland made the safe call. You can be angry at him if you want, but the fact is he never actually promised Rivera would be used in the ninth. Right, Cliff Corcoran of Sports Illustrated?
Jim Leyland says his ideal is to have Mariano Rivera closing out a win in the ninth, but Rivera will pitch either way.— Cliff Corcoran (@CliffCorcoran) July 15, 2013
Technically, Leyland was true to his word. And to his credit, things worked out well enough.
If Rivera felt out of place pitching in the eighth inning, he didn't show it. He threw only 16 pitches and retired Jean Segura, Allen Craig and Carlos Gomez in order to keep the three-run lead intact.
A few minutes (and one Prince Fielder triple) later, Joe Nathan worked around a two-out double from Paul Goldschmidt in the bottom of the ninth to nail down the 3-0 win for the American League. After dropping three in a row to the Senior Circuit, the Junior Circuit is back in the win column.
If you want my advice, you're better off shrugging your shoulders and choosing to remember the good times of Rivera's last All-Star appearance. The good times started early. If you missed it, this picture started making the rounds before the first pitch and is still equally marvelous:
Before the game, Rivera took a moment to share a few words with his American League teammates in the clubhouse. It was...well, it was about what you'd expect.
And while you're free to argue with the timing of Rivera's entry into the game, there's no arguing with the sheer awesomeness of the moment. It was perfect.
"Enter Sandman" was playing. The crowd was revved up. And when Rivera got to the mound, he was all alone. Both National and American League players were in their respective dugouts, standing and applauding the greatest closer baseball has ever known. Same goes for the thousands upon thousands of fans packed into Citi Field.
Often more so than the games themselves, we tend to remember MLB All-Star Game moments. And make no mistake about it, Rivera standing all by himself on the Citi Field mound in the middle of thousands of admirers was a moment.
BREAKING: Mariano Rivera becomes 1st reliever to win #ASG MVP. Of course.— MLB (@MLB) July 17, 2013
So could the night have been better for Rivera? Yeah, absolutely. The hold was nice, but the save would have been much more in line with the script we all green-lit before production started. Him getting the save would have been Roy Hobbs hitting one into the light tower or Luke Skywalker blowing up the Death Star.
But was the night a total loss?
Hell no. The whole idea was to make Mo's last All-Star game a memorable one. And though Mo didn't get in for the ninth inning, I'd say the mission was otherwise a resounding success.
We'll know it was when we're still talking about Rivera's last All-Star game many years from now, all without bothering to remember the inning in which he pitched.
If you want to talk baseball, hit me up on Twitter.
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