“A scene that I will never forget” — reflections from ‘The Mo Game’

Mariano RiveraLast night’s All-Star Game at Citi Field will be remembered as the Mariano Rivera game, as the moment when Rivera was given his well-deserved and authentic outpouring of admiration.

Whether you were clutching a sweaty ticket in the field-level seats, wearing a uniform in either dugout, watching at home on television or hammering away on a MacBook in the left-field press box, your emotions were likely the same as Rivera reached the mound with Metallica’s “Enter Sandman” filling his ears — chills.

Rivera looked around, realized he was completely alone on the playing field, and doffed his cap to all corners of the ballpark. He later admitted that he was fighting back tears, choked up with emotion as every player and coach bathed the retiring great in applause.

“I wasn’t expecting that,” Rivera said. “I wanted to come and do my job. When I was crossing the field, I got to the mound, and then the song — I heard that song in another stadium, that was great.  And when I got to the mound, I saw both sides, both teams in the dugouts, and it was amazing. It almost made me cry, too.  I was close.  It was amazing, a scene that I will never forget.”

People will argue, of course, that it would have added to the moment if Rivera was entering for the ninth inning and not the eighth. Tigers manager Jim Leyland had his reasons, fearing a late lead change that would have made the bottom of the ninth impossible, and I’m sure it’ll be a great debate for years that Leyland could have changed his mind after the American League went up by three runs.

I also don’t believe it really matters in the grand scheme of things. The All-Star Game stopped, very appropriately, to honor and respect Rivera on one of the biggest stages imaginable. Once play resumed, Rivera set down the NL in a clean 16-pitch inning, the AL held on for a 3-0 victory and Rivera received the All-Star Game MVP award.

If the Yankees don’t make it to the World Series and it turns out that this was Rivera’s farewell to the national audience, it was a wonderful way to say goodbye.

Mariano Rivera

Here is how some of the players from both sides will remember the night:

Pedro Alvarez, Pirates: “Him coming in, I grew up watching the guy pitch, and he’s such an exemplary player and person. To be able to share that moment with everybody else here was pretty, it’s going to be unforgettable, that’s for sure. It takes a very special person for something like that to happen.”

Bruce Bochy, Giants manager: “It was moving.  What he’s accomplished in his career and the person that he is, I can’t say I know him, but I’ve heard enough about him that he’s such a class person and a great ambassador to the game.  For him to get honored like that was moving, a very special moment, and our players, you know, they showed their respect and appreciation and so it’s a really neat deal, which he richly, richly deserves.  So that was a neat moment.”

Allen Craig, Cardinals: “That’s one of the moments I’ll never forget. That was probably one of the coolest at-bats I’ve had in my career. I just thought it was extremely special that the stars kind of aligned for me to have a chance to face him. I respect him so much and the career that he has had. The more that I play in this game, the more I respect guys who have longevity and continue to produce like him. It’s just an amazing thing. I was honored to get the chance to hit against him. It was cool.”

Michael Cuddyer, Rockies: “No question. He’s the greatest of all time. Anytime you’re in the midst of history like that, you’ve got to appreciate it. Even if it is a competition, you appreciate what he’s done for this game, for this profession, the way he’s carried himself and handled himself and the way he’s dominated.”

Chris Davis, Orioles: “It was awesome. It was good to be on his side for once. Just knowing what he’s done in his career and what he means to the game, it was special to be a part of it. I was glad he really took his time and let it all sink in. Obviously it’s a tribute to what he’s done in his career, and what we all think about him.”

Prince Fielder, Tigers: “It’s pretty cool, because ’96 I was there in the clubhouse for his first World Series.  So it’s pretty cool to give him the ball, especially since I was a kid when he won his first World Series.”

Carlos Gomez, Brewers: “It gave me [goosebumps]. When I see Mariano, I continue to clap. Because a guy like that, like a gentleman, like a great person and a fantastic ballplayer and real professional, it’s a guy that everywhere you see him, on the field and off the field, you’re going to tip your cap. He deserves it, now and when he’s retired.”

Torii Hunter, Tigers: “He deserved it. We understand, as players and competitors, what he’s done in this game. We know how hard this game is, and for everything that he’s done in this game, that was well-deserved. We’re looking at greatness. We can tell our grandkids, ‘Hey, I went to the All-Star Game with this guy, I played against him,’ and that’s the living proof right there before your eyes. It’s sad, but at the same time you’re happy for him.”

Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers: “It was cool, man. I’m glad I got to be here to see that. That was such an awesome thing for him to get to do and for us to be a part of. I was just happy to see it.”

Jim Leyland, Tigers manager: “The night was full of emotion, and to be honest with you, this is one of the toughest games I ever had to manage, because you have all these different scenarios that might happen. Really, the show tonight — even though we won the game, and a lot of guys did a very, very good job.  I don’t want to slight anybody — but this was really about trying to manipulate so we got Mariano at the right time.”

Joe Mauer, Twins: “I didn’t know that was going to happen. We were kind of like, what’s going on? Coming in the eighth, your initial reaction is like, why isn’t he pitching the ninth, but you understand the situation and that was a nice moment. … I got to close out an All-Star game with him in ’06, so that’s something I’ll always remember. We got some pictures and stuff like that. And it was my first All-Star Game, so that was pretty cool.”

Mark Melancon, Pirates: “I was actually getting loose while he was throwing, getting ready to go in. It was cool. In 2009, I came up with the Yankees and got to be in the bullpen with him. I got goosebumps as he was walking out the gate. Just a really special moment.”

Joe Nathan, Twins: “We definitely wanted to see him in the ninth, 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.”

Salvador Perez, Royals: “Seriously, I got a little nervous. 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.”

Sergio Romo, Giants: “Wow. Extremely humbling just to meet him. For me to shake his hand and let him know how much I respect him, then for him to come back and say, ‘Thank you, Romo.’ Wait. You know my name? Wow, what a feeling just to know that I’m visible to a person like that, someone I feel is a hero in the game, a guy who I personally look up to. Why not try to be like the best example, who is Mariano Rivera. I saw it live. Very special.”

Chris Sale, White Sox: “The bigger picture is just being a part of a game that Mariano was a part of. Mariano Rivera is the best in every aspect of pretty much everything. So just being a part of a game that he’s a part of meant the world to me and I’ll never forget it. … I don’t think I’ve ever had a baseball experience like that in my entire life. Being able to witness the greatest of all-time, ever, was a very humbling experience. It’s something I’ll never forget. Ever.”

Mike Trout, Angels: “It was probably the most memorable moment I had, besides playing and starting, just to see him come out to the field. It was pretty special.”

Troy Tulowitzki, Rockies: “Obviously he deserves everything he got, the MVP and all that, the standing ovation. But when you’re sitting there trying to score runs off the guy and you’re clapping for him, that makes it a little difficult. That was kind of a situation I’ve never been faced with.”

Justin Verlander, Tigers: “What a class act. Listening to him talk, it’s something I’ll never forget. I got a Rivera jersey signed. I got a Rivera All-Star jersey. I thought about a Yankee jersey, to give him that, but this is an opportunity that I’m a teammate of his, I’m here with him.”

Ben Zobrist, Rays: “Those moments, it’s hard to put into words. A guy like that who’s played as long as he has and had the impact that he’s had on the game. But you could just see in his face how genuine he is, how humble he is. We were able to share that moment with him, and that’s the last one that he’s going to have at the All-Star Game. It’s certainly a special thing for us to be able to be here with him.”

Mariano Rivera

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