The American League beat the National League 3-0 in Tuesday night’s All-Star Game in New York. It was the final All-Star showing for the Yankee’s Mariano Rivera, who took the mound in the eighth inning:
The top step of both dugouts brimmed with the best baseball players on the planet, whom the placid 43-year-old on the mound had turned into awestruck little boys.
“He’s one of the best pitchers in the history of the game, to be honest with you,” Cardinals right-hander Adam Wainwright said. “I don’t think there’s ever been a better pitch in baseball than his cutter. He’s thrown one pitch his entire career. Teach me that pitch. I would love to do that.”. . .
On the mound, Rivera removed his New York Yankees cap, kissed it and lifted it over his head, turning to acknowledge every corner of the standing ovation. Rivera threw his first warmup pitch to catcher Salvador Perez, a 23-year-old Kansas City Royal who was 5 when Rivera made his debut. Only then did the defenders trot to their positions behind Rivera.
“We wanted to give him his due,” Leyland said.
Goosebumps remained as Rivera finished his warmup. He carved through another 1-2-3 inning. Brewers shortstop Jean Segura, 23, came to bat first and grounded out. “He only throws one pitch,” Segura said. “Everybody knows it’s that pitch coming.”
Cardinals first baseman Allen Craig, 28, had never previously faced Rivera. He had watched Rivera since he was a kid, and he always wondered what it would be like to see Rivera’s cutter from the batter’s box. On the on-deck circle, he had joined the standing ovation.
“I was kind of thinking to myself, ‘Man, this is one of those special moments that I see on TV growing up, that people will never forget,’ ” Craig said. “And then I found myself on deck, a part of it. It’s just a cool deal.”
Craig lined out to left. Brewers outfielder Carlos Gomez chopped to short, ending the inning. Rivera threw 16 pitches. They were all cutters.
“His legacy is that he’s the best closer to ever play,” Wainwright said. “The cutter is just the legend within the legacy. It’s like a fairytale pitch.”
Rivera received the Most Valuable Player award for the game:
His first and last outs of a 1-2-3 inning were, suitably, on weak grounders. With tears in his glistening eyes on the mound, Rivera still painted the black, then teased hitters into chasing his futile shades of gray.
One AL star, Alex Gordon, actually lamented that he was on the same team with the immortal Mariano. “I just want to get one hit off that cutter in my career,” said Gordon, lifetime average .000 vs. Mo. “I already have about 10 broken bats against him.”
Since no batter on either team had more than one hit, run or RBI and no pitcher worked more than two scoreless innings, the game’s MVP was Rivera because . . . why not? Thousands of fans in a NL park stayed after the game to cheer the award ceremony behind second base. Thus, Mo iced his status as perhaps the only Yankee who has ever united every New York fan.
Tuesday was also the last All-Star Game for Nationals manager Davey Johnson, who plans to retire after this season:
This year, he cherished the experience. After five decades in professional baseball, he is still searching for information. “I’m learning new things,” Johnson said.
Monday afternoon, he told Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman to not return too soon from a thumb sprain. (“I’ve always had a lot of respect for Davey,” Freeman said.) He chatted with Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina. He wanted to know about the grain of wood he used in his bat, the placement of the label compared to the knots.
“The dinosaur that I am, it’s nice to see what young guys are using,” Johnson said. “Some of them even remembered who I was.”
Tuesday afternoon, as part of the all-star parade through Manhattan, Johnson sat in the back of a pickup truck with Susan and their grandchildren, Kai and Ana Lise. Johnson smiled the entire time. “Look at those buildings,” Susan heard him say. “Look at that sky. This is just wonderful.”
Fans who remembered Johnson leading the Mets to the 1986 World Series cheered for him. . .
When Johnson arrived at Citi Field, he found a helmet in his locker. National League Manager Bruce Bochy’s wanted him to coach first base. Johnson stuffed the helmet – “my hard hat,” he said – in his bag. He found Bochy.
Johnson coached him in the Mets’ minor league system some three decades ago, and now Bochy has won two World Series titles as a manger. “Why don’t you use the current manager at first base and not the one they ran out of town?” Johnson asked. Mets Manager Terry Collins would coach first base. Johnson would sit in the dugout.
“I’m enjoying the moment,” Johnson said, at peace with the knowledge he only has so many more baseball moments left.
Columnist Tracee Hamilton writes that the All-Star Game tries to be too many things at once:
Is baseball’s all-star game a lighthearted, fun annual event in which the sport reverts to Little League rules — everyone plays — and fans determine the starting rosters? Or is it an important contest between teams made up of the best of the best that has the not inconsiderable responsibility of determining home-field advantage in the World Series?
Answer(s): Yes. And that’s the problem with the so-called Midsummer Classic. It no longer knows quite what it is. . .
The debate over Yasiel Puig’s potential participation perfectly encapsulated the debate. The Dodgers phenom has played in just 38 major league games, but a pro-Puig (say it three times fast) vanguard lobbied for his inclusion. Traditionalists argued he hadn’t built enough of a résumé. Supporters argued that the game is supposed to be an exhibition showcasing the most exciting players in baseball; in his brief career, Puig already fills that bill.
If baseball knew what it wanted the game to be, the answer might have been easier. If the game is a lark, then why not include Puig, who certainly would liven things up (as Nationals fans likely will find out this weekend). If the game is important enough to determine home-field advantage, then it should include the best of the best, and definitely require more than 38 games of experience.
Baseball, as it so often does, took the coward’s way out. Let the fans decide Puig’s fate! He was one of five NL players eligible for a final spot in the game; the winner was determined by fan voting. (Nationals shortstop Ian Desmond was among that group.) Puig finished second to Atlanta’s Freddie Freeman, who had to drop out because of injury. Yet Puig, with the second-most votes, did not replace him. Instead, another Brave, Brian McCann, got the spot. So much for empowering the fans.
For coverage of Monday’s Home Run Derby, continue reading here.