The night belonged to Mariano Rivera.
The all-time saves leader jogged onto an empty field in the eighth inning and received a well-deserved standing ovation from the largest crowd in Citi Field history. Players in both dugouts were on their feet, providing what can only be described as a cool and special moment to celebrate the final season for an all-time great.
Rivera, in typical fashion, worked a 1-2-3 eighth inning, leaving the ninth to Texas Rangers closer Joe Nathan.
Talk about pressure.
“I’ll calm down some time next week,” said Nathan, who got the save after working a scoreless ninth in the American League’s 3-0 victory over the National League.
“When I get a one-run game or something, I’ll be a lot more calm.”
Nathan likes to keep the ball from the final out of his saves, and he wanted to hold onto the one from his first All-Star save. But he didn’t think twice when he handed the ball to Rivera afterward.
“I wanted it, but I wanted to give it to him even more,” Nathan said. “He’s a legend in this game. What he does for people in the game, outside the game, he’s a hero. He’s a true hero.”
Nathan thought Rivera would work the ninth inning and didn’t know it was his until he entered the game. Despite all the pressure, he got the job done, working around a two-out double by Paul Goldschmidt.
He struck out the first two batters he faced, former TCU standout Matt Carpenter of the Cardinals and Pirates outfielder Andrew McCutchen. He then gave up the double but got Pittsburgh’s Pedro Alvarez to pop up to end the game.
The Midsummer Classic victory gave the AL home-field advantage in the World Series for the first time since 2009, which is significant. Since the All-Star Game began determining home-field for the World Series back in 2003, the home-field league has gone on to win seven of 10 World Series.
“No doubt it’s more important,” Rangers outfielder Nelson Cruz said. “We’ve seen the difference the last few years, and home-field advantage is huge in the World Series.”
Cruz got his first taste of playing in the All-Star Game, too. He didn’t appear in his first All-Star visit back in 2009 but entered Tuesday’s game as a defensive replacement in the sixth inning.
Cruz led off the seventh, drawing a walk against Reds reliever Aroldis Chapman. He then grounded out in the ninth.
“It felt great to finally get in,” Cruz said. “I was a little nervous at first, but I got better and it eventually felt like another game. I’m happy for Mariano and Joe, too. He did what he has been doing all season.”
The game got off to an interesting start when NL starter Matt Harvey plunked the second batter of the game, Yankees second baseman Robinson Cano. X-rays were negative on Cano, who was disappointed to see his night end three pitches into the game.
But the AL powered on, taking a 1-0 lead in the fourth inning to snap what had become a 17-inning scoreless streak in the All-Star Game. The AL was shut out last year and scored only one run in the fourth inning in 2011.
Miguel Cabrera led off the fourth with a double to right-center, moved to third on a single by Chris Davis and scored on a sacrifice fly by Jose Bautista.
The AL extended its lead to 3-0 with single runs in the fifth and eighth innings. In the fifth, Adam Jones doubled off Cliff Lee and scored on a grounder by J.J. Hardy. Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis then drove in a run in the eighth with a two-out RBI double.
That was more than enough for a dominant AL pitching staff, which allowed four base-runners all night.
Starter Max Scherzer and Chris Sale opened with three perfect innings before Felix Hernandez gave up a one-out single to Carlos Beltran in the fourth. But Hernandez got out of it by getting Joey Votto and David Wright to ground out.
A’s reliever Grant Balfour issued a leadoff walk in the sixth inning but retired the next three batters. The NL’s third base runner of the night came in the seventh when Wright had a one-out single off Royals reliever Greg Holland. But Blue Jays relievers Brett Cecil and Steve Delabar ended the threat by retiring each batter they faced.
The highlight of the night then came when Rivera, who was chosen as the game’s Most Valuable player, entered in the eighth.
“We definitely wanted to see him in the ninth, but regardless of what inning he got to pitch tonight, that moment was pretty cool for us as players, for the fans, and I’m sure it was absolutely amazing for Mo,” Nathan said. “There are moments in this game you remember very clear, and this will be one of them.”
“I took everything in because it was priceless,” Rivera said. “I will never see this again.”