There was no discussion on the American League bench. The bullpen door simply opened, and the players stopped moving.
“It was like a virus,” Torii Hunter said. “Everybody caught it at the same time. We all just stood there and watched. … It was his moment.”
Mariano Rivera jogged out to the familiar sound of Enter Sandman, and when he got the mound, he was in the unfamiliar position of being all alone. One man on an empty field, surrounded by a standing ovation that stretched throughout Citi Field and into both dugouts.
“I wasn’t expecting that,” Rivera said. “When I got to the mound, I see both sides, both teams in the dugout, and it was amazing. It almost made me cry, too. I was close. It was amazing, a scene that I will never forget.”
Manager Jim Leyland told Rivera during batting practice that he would likely pitch the eighth inning. Because of Neil Diamond singing in the middle of the eighth, the American League was going to wait longer than usual to take the field. So the stage was set for Rivera’s entrance, but everything that came next was a spontaneous show of respect.
“It choked me up,” Hunter said. “It was a touching situation. I promise you, you’re not going to see anybody like that again because in all my years, I’ve never seen anybody with that pitch, ever. Everybody tries to imitate it, there’s some fake ones out there, but he has the true cutter.”
And tonight, that true cutter produced a 1-2-3 inning, an All-Star Game MVP, and one of the most touching moments of a Hall of Fame career.
“I think the only one that will top this is the World Series,” Rivera said. “Besides that, I mean, this has been outstanding. Especially when you are not expecting this. I wanted to pitch. I wanted to come to the game and, since this will be my last one, I wanted to enjoy and be able to pitch for the last time in the All-Star Game. The rest was a plus. The rest was indescribable.”
• The obvious question, why the eighth inning? “I said to the players before the game, I said, I’m not a motivational speaker,” Leyland said. “But my motivation for tonight is to work our fannies off to get to the ninth inning and bring in the greatest closer of all-time. I did lie a little bit by one inning, but for obvious reasons. I hope you all understand that. If something freaky would have happened in the eighth where they would have scored some runs and taken a lead, there possibly wouldn’t have been a ninth.”
• Joe Nathan said he didn’t want the ninth inning, he wanted Rivera to have it. “We definitely wanted to see him in the ninth,” Nathan said. “But you want to guarantee that he goes in and has his moment. Regardless of what inning he got to pitch tonight, that moment was pretty cool. Pretty cool for us as players, pretty cool for the fans, and I’m sure it was absolutely amazing for Mo. Obviously it would have probably been even better in the ninth for him, but we got him in the game, we got him his moment and we got a win.”
• Of course, the players were a little caught off guard. “We were like what the..?” Hunter said. “We did all this work for the eighth?” Ultimately, though, everyone seemed to understand that Leyland was making sure Rivera got in the game. “Your initial reaction is like, why isn’t he pitching the ninth,” Joe Mauer said. “But you understand the situation and that was a nice moment.”
• Dave Robertson had a different idea of why Rivera pitched the eighth: “In tribute to me,” Robertson tweeted. Seriously, is a Yankee going to tweet anything funnier than that all year? That’s better than Phil Hughes tweeting the Sanderson coffee cup, right?
• For Royals catcher Salvador Perez, the eighth was the highlight of the night. “Seriously, I got a little nervous,” Perez said. “As soon as I saw him coming to the mound, I said, gosh, it’s unbelievable. Last All-Star Game that Mariano Rivera pitched, I will catch. That’s awesome.”
• Perez went to the mound to discuss signs with Rivera. “He tell me, it’s easy to catch me,” Perez said. “I just got fastball and cutter. Suspend your changeup sign. … That’s what he tell me. I just called it down and away, called it inside. That’s it. It’s easy.”
• Prince Fielder gave Rivera the ball from the eighth inning, and Nathan actually gave Rivera the save ball. “To be able to hand the ball over to him that I saved with him in the bullpen was pretty cool,” Nathan said. “It’s no secret how much I look up to him, so to be able to do that for him was awesome. … It was pretty cool to hand over a save ball to him that he got a hold in. He doesn’t have too many holds in his career.”
• Hunter and Rivera each spoke to the team before the game. “I can’t tell you how emotional it was in the clubhouse before the game,” Leyland said. “That was very touching.”
• What did Rivera say? “Torii Hunter, he spoke, told me to say something,” Rivera said. “What I said was that I was honored and it was a privilege for me to play with all of them, you know, for so many years. This is my 13th year as an All-Star, and many of them, it was their first one. I told them, just make sure they enjoy, because it goes quick. That was my speech, and I told them I appreciate every bit of them and for me, it was a privilege and an honor to play with them.”
• Here’s another good line: Nathan was asked whether he thought about the possibility of Rivera getting a two-inning save. “You don’t want to do that,” Nathan said. “That’s an old man down there.”
• Final word goes to, who else but Rivera: “It felt so weird. Basically I was there alone with my catcher. I don’t know how to act. At that moment, I didn’t know what to do, just keep throwing the ball, I guess, because it was so weird. But at the same time, I mean, I definitely appreciate that, what they did for me.”
Associated Press photos