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Storin: On night of All-Star pitching, Rivera stood above all others

Mariano Rivera made one of the biggest "saves" of his illustrious baseball career Tuesday night.

It won't go down as his record 639th save in the box score, but when Rivera trotted to the mound in the eighth inning, he turned a dull All-Star game into a magical baseball moment.

And boy did this game need it.

Until Rivera entered, the only thing memorable for fans at Citi Field and watching on TV were the pre-game festivities that included former New York Mets great Tom Seaver throwing out the first pitch.

That was kind of symbolic, since pitchers ruled the game. Unbelievably, the managers -- Detroit's Jim Leyland and San Francisco's Bruce Bochy -- found a way to use 18 pitchers in a contest that produced only three runs and 12 hits.

Rivera was the ninth and best for the American League, retiring the side in 1-2-3 order and earning the Most Valuable Player Award.

But that was almost incidental to how the middle of the eighth inning evolved.

As Rivera warmed up in the bullpen, gray-bearded Neil Diamond danced onto the field and crooned his famous "Sweet Caroline" in front of the pitchers mound.

All players on each side watched from the dugouts and, in a moment that had to be orchestrated, stayed there as Rivera made his jog onto the conspicuously empty field.

As Rivera approached the mound he found himself alone, as the players on both teams, in front of their dugouts, gave him a standing ovation.

The New York Yankees legend, who is retiring at the end of the season, doffed his cap repeatedly as the fans roared for several minutes.

Later, Rivera said it "almost made me cry."

It was a priceless All-Star moment and rivaled the scene at the 1999 All-Star game at Fenway Park when the players gathered around the mortally ill Ted Williams sitting in a wheelchair.

It was fitting that Rivera was presented the MVP award named after Williams, whose All-Star performances are legendary.

Two All-Star Classics stand out to me in showing how much the game has changed:

  • 1941 -- Baseball's golden year, when Williams batted .406 and Joe DiMaggio hit safely in 56 consecutive games.
  • The American League was trailing 5-3 in the bottom of the ninth. With one out and the bases loaded, DiMaggio hit a certain double play ball, but the second baseman's throw was wide of first and DiMag was safe. This brought up Williams, who sent a fast ball into the upper deck at Detroit's Briggs Stadium and the AL won, 7-5.

  • 1946 -- The first All-Star game after World War II and the marquee players like Williams, who had missed three years, were back for the first time.
  • The highlight of the game at Fenway Park was the matchup of Williams and Rip Sewell, who had a famed "Blooper Ball" pitch that had never been hit for a home run.

    Williams had already hit a home run and two doubles when Sewell took the mound in the eighth inning. Ted struggled with a couple of pitches, but then with two strikes, hit a home run into the right-field bullpen. Final score: AL 12, NL 0.

    The thing to note about those two games is that the super stars were still playing in the eighth and ninth innings, and managers used only three or four pitchers in the game.

    Those days are long gone. And, sadly, it takes the anticipation of a "Rivera Moment" to keep me awake until the end of the game.