NEW YORK — He stood alone, atop the mound, atop a city, atop his profession.
The fans gave him a standing ovation. So did the players, on both teams, from the top step of each dugout. Mariano Rivera touched his cap to his heart, waved it at the fans, nearly broke down in tears.
“It was amazing,” Rivera said. “It was a scene I will never forget.”
It was his last All-Star act in a game that will never forget him – well, except for the three outs he coolly recorded as soon as everyone sat down. In the last All-Star game of his Cooperstown career, the best closer in baseball history worked a perfect eighth inning — yes, eighth inning — as the American League beat the National League, 3-0.
The victory ended a three-game National League winning streak and delivered World Series home-field advantage to the American League for the first time since 2009.
Miguel Cabrera of the Detroit Tigers doubled and scored the game’s first run, Adam Jones of the Baltimore Orioles doubled and scored the second run, and Jason Kipnis of the Cleveland Indians doubled home the third run.
That set an early stage for Rivera, the New York Yankees closer. In batting practice, AL Manager Jim Leyland told Rivera he would work the ninth inning if the AL had a big lead and the eighth inning otherwise. In an NL park — and in New York — Leyland would not risk holding Rivera for a bottom of the ninth inning that might not be played.
“I wanted to make sure I got out of here alive,” Leyland said.
So, with the AL leading by a not entirely comfortable margin of 3-0, Leyland gave Rivera the eighth inning. However, in the middle of the eighth inning, Neil Diamond strode onto the field for a live performance of his Fenway Park staple, “Sweet Caroline.”
For presumably the first and last time in his distinguished career, Rivera had to wait to make his entrance because Diamond was hogging the field.
Rivera cooled his heels in the bullpen. The players cooled their heels in the dugouts. Then, in one of the most jarring musical transitions in human history, Diamond gave way to Metallica.
“Enter Sandman,” the trademark Rivera entrance song, blared ominously from the speakers. Rivera jogged toward the mound, all by himself. None of the AL players took the field until Rivera, serenaded by the crowd, climbed the mound and bathed in applause.
The players wanted it that way. They talked about it in the dugout, with Leyland. This was not an orchestrated plan. It was more of a spontaneous reaction to let Rivera have his moment, all by himself.
To the veteran players, the moment echoed the All-Star game in 2001, when Cal Ripken Jr. played in his final All-Star game. Ripken had moved to third base for the final years of his career, but Alex Rodriguez famously excused himself from shortstop so Ripken could make a final All-Star appearance at the position that made him famous.
“We’re looking at greatness,” Torii Hunter said. “We can tell our grandkids, ‘I was in the All-Star game with that guy.’
“Cal Ripken was one of those guys. Mariano is one of those guys.”
Ripken was regal, and a bit aloof. Rivera gave the AL team a pregame pep talk in which he thanked his teammates for the honor and privilege of playing with them.
Mike Trout, who at 21 is less than half Rivera’s age, already has a ball signed by Rivera. The Angels play the Yankees in New York next month, and Trout plans to ask Rivera for a signed jersey. Trout does not even have kids, and yet he already is thinking ahead to telling them how he played with the great Rivera.