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Dublin: 4 °C Friday 25 April, 2014

Exit Sandman: Baseball’s most feared closer Manny Rivera gets solo bow

After a quarter-century on the mound, Rivera was honoured with that rarest of baseball tributes.

American League’s Mariano Rivera, of the New York Yankees, poses for photographers after the MLB All-Star baseball game last night.
American League’s Mariano Rivera, of the New York Yankees, poses for photographers after the MLB All-Star baseball game last night.
Image: (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

THE GREAT ONES get the stage to themselves.

Mariano Rivera was held in the bullpen out in right-centre field until Neil Diamond had sung the final words of “Sweet Caroline” in the middle of the eighth inning during Tuesday night’s All-Star game.

And then the opening notes of Metallica’s “Enter Sandman” — his Yankee Stadium theme song but unfamiliar on the road — rang out over the public-address system as the greatest reliever of all-time jogged toward the mound. The record crowd of 45,186 gathered at Citi Field on this humid summer night rose and cheered, knowing this was a moment people will remember much more than the American League’s 3-0 victory.

Quiet, reserved and understated during nearly a quarter-century in a sport that took him from Panama to the pantheon of pinstriped pitchers, Rivera was being honoured with that rarest of baseball tributes — a solo bow.

As he reached the brown circle in the centreof the green diamond, Rivera realized he was the only person on the field.

Sinatra. Springsteen. The Mick — Jagger and Mantle. They all got to stand in the spotlight alone. And now it was Rivera’s turn.

He took off his cap, waved it to all sides of the ballpark. He touched his hat to his heart.

His AL All-Star teammates stood by the third-base dugout rail and applauded, just like the fans. So did his NL opponents on the first-base side. With no other players in fair territory, he finally started tossing his warm-up pitches to catcher Salvador Perez.

Like Ted Williams at Boston’s Fenway Park in 1999 and Cal Ripken Jr at Seattle’s Safeco Field two years later, one man transcended all the rest of the gathered talent.

“You’re supposed to know your team is behind you,” Rivera said. “I didn’t know what to do. Just keep throwing the ball, I guess, because it was so weird.”

And then, after a 90-second standing ovation, eight AL position players came on the field. Normalcy resumed. Rivera threw 16 pitches — all cutters — and retired Jean Segura, Allen Craig and Carlos Gomez, sending the side down in order the way he has so many times before.

“He still can pitch for three or four more years. He’s the best,” Gomez explained. “After I got to the dugout, I say I’m going to be history because I’m the last guy Mariano got out in the All-Star game.”

Rivera then walked to the dugout to another standing ovation and was given a hug by Detroit ace Justin Verlander.

“It’s kind of surreal for me,” Verlander said. “I just wanted to give him the respect and the respect that he deserved, I just happened to be standing out there and I was the first one he came to. That’s something that I will never forget.”

AL manager Jim Leyland decided to pitch Rivera in the eighth instead of the ninth, worried that if the NL somehow rallied Rivera might not get into the game.

“I just couldn’t take any chance,” Leyland said. “You know, I’m probably not the most popular manager in baseball. I wanted to make sure I got out of here alive.”

Hours after the game, a video board at Citi Field reminded people the All-Stars will gather next year at Minnesota’s Target Field. But the great Rivera won’t be among them.

“It’s been a privilege,” Rivera said to the crowd, speaking on the field after the game. “You guys almost made me cry.”

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