Mariano Rivera completed another key leg of his farewell tour when he appeared in his ninth and final All-Star game on Tuesday at Citi Field in New York. Rivera has been named to 13 teams, but only pitched in nine, whether because the score didn't seem to require it, injury, or the manager just didn't get around to calling his name.
However, it was something of a foregone conclusion that he would pitch in the 2013 given that a chance to see Mo go out on top was certain to be a highlight in a game that, since the advent of interleague play, cable television, and the Internet, has lacked a raison d'etre. Rivera has conceded little to age in this last season, and that's as it should be. Rivera has only one trick, the darting cutter, and it always seemed likely that Rivera would either retain something like peak ability or else cease to function altogether. Viewed in that light, his decision to leave something on the table rather than push his luck, is an act that echoes Joe DiMaggio's decision to hang ‘em up before anyone saw him struggle. In this, Rivera is not only protecting his image and defining the way he is remembered, but also doing all who admire him a favor.
It mattered little that Rivera appeared not in his usual ninth-inning role, but rather in the eighth inning so that he could be certain of getting in the game (Leyland was afraid his team would blow the lead in the eighth and there would be no bottom of the ninth -- exposure to Jose Valverde has made him a fatalist). Again, despite Bud Selig and Fox Television's lame "This time it counts" folderol, the game counts for far less than the individuals in it -- what Bryce Harper did, the plays that Brandon Phillips and Manny Machado made, and Rivera's coast-to-coast TV curtain call. Rivera's being awarded the game's MVP trophy only underscored the reality that if there was anything that counted on Tuesday night, it wasn't the game.
Not since Ted Williams was brought onto the field prior to the 1999 All-Star Game at Fenway Park was there a moment as touching as that which surrounded Rivera's entry into the game. He was alone on the diamond, his teammates and the opposition remaining in the dugouts so that he could receive the full affection of the crowd and respond in kind.
Who could pitch after receiving that kind of accolade? Rivera was able to, throwing an uneventful inning. The man has all but been deified in New York, and this post is not intended to add to that -- no doubt, in the years to come, someone will find some fault to pick with the man, reveal that he doesn't tip well or he suffers from chronic bad breath. He is, after all, only human. For this one night, that was entirely beside the point. All that mattered was Rivera, his unique consistency and grace under pressure, and the rare sight of a man whose greatness was acknowledged not years after he was dead, but here, today, right in front of him.
Anything else that happened in the 2013 All-Star Game was naught but a footnote to that.