NEW YORK – Mariano Rivera was all set up to save his final All-Star game – or so it seemed.
Jim Leyland just wasn’t about to take that chance.
Summoned in the eighth inning to make certain he would pitch, Rivera soaked up a 90-second standing ovation and got three straight outs while helping the American League to a 3-0 victory over the National League on Tuesday night at Citi Field.
“I think the plan was perfect,” said Rivera, who took home the MVP trophy.
Rivera reported early for work and the New York Yankees’ indomitable closer combined with nine other pitchers on a three-hitter as the AL snapped a three-game skid and regained home-field advantage in the World Series. Joe Nathan saved it in Rivera’s place after the American League scratched out a pair of runs and got an RBI double from Jason Kipnis.
Leyland, the A.L. manager, had promised Rivera would pitch. So rather than risk waiting for a save opportunity that might never come, the Detroit Tigers’ skipper made his much-awaited call one inning earlier than Rivera is accustomed, just in case of “something freaky.”
“If anybody ever messed up Mariano Rivera, I can lay claim to that,” Leyland said. “I just couldn’t take any chance. You know, I’m probably not the most popular manager in baseball. I wanted to make sure I got out of here alive.”
Robinson Cano hobbled off early after getting hit by a pitch from crosstown rival Matt Harvey of the host Mets. X-rays were negative and Cano said he shouldn’t miss any games for the Yankees.
Harvey and opposing starter Max Scherzer were among a record 39 first-time All-Stars in a game that featured four precocious players 21 or younger — baseball’s next generation.
Both came out throwing 99 mph heat, but it was Rivera, at 43 the oldest All-Star since Carlton Fisk in 1991, who was the center of attention in his farewell season. And on this night, with drug suspensions still looming for some of the game’s biggest names, the spotlight found a player who is almost universally respected.
Baseball’s career saves leader came in from the bullpen to Metallica’s “Enter Sandman,” just like across town at Yankee Stadium, and was left alone on the field to take in a stirring ovation.
All-Stars on both sides clapped from the top of the dugout steps, and Rivera tipped his cap to the crowd.
Then he went to work, retiring three straight hitters on 16 pitches — all cutters, as usual — before walking off to another ovation and receiving a hug from Detroit ace Justin Verlander.
Next stop, the Hall of Fame.
The game’s greatest reliever, quiet and humble by nature, addressed his A.L. teammates before they took the field. He made it quick, just like his outing. Most of them, actually.
“What I said was that I was honored and it was a privilege for me to play with all of them for so many years,” Rivera said.
The lengthy cheers provided a fitting tribute and the latest salute to Rivera, set to retire after this season.
Rivera has never allowed an earned run in nine All-Star innings. The only older pitcher to appear in an All-Star game was 47-year-old Satchel Paige 60 years ago, according to STATS.
“First class all the way,” Mets captain David Wright said. “Well deserving for Mariano. I was on the top step clapping and cheering as loud as I could.”
Winning pitcher Chris Sale from the Chicago White Sox worked two perfect innings for the A.L., which posted its third shutout and first since 1990 at Wrigley Field to trim the N.L. lead to 43-39-2 in All-Star games.
The National League didn’t manage a baserunner until Carlos Beltran’s one-out single in the fourth.
Fans chanted Harvey’s name during pregame introductions, and the 24-year-old sensation delivered with three strikeouts in two shutout innings.
He walked off to a standing ovation and received a pat on the back from N.L. manager Bruce Bochy of the San Francisco Giants, the defending World Series champions.
Harvey was the youngest All-Star starting pitcher since former Mets ace Dwight Gooden was 23 a quarter-century ago — and the first from the home team since Houston’s Roger Clemens in 2004. Gooden cheered Harvey on from the stands.
All the buildup might have made the phenom a little too excited at the start. Mike Trout doubled inside first base on his opening pitch, and Harvey drilled Cano just above the right knee with a 96 mph fastball on the third.
Miguel Cabrera ripped a leadoff double against loser Patrick Corbin in the fourth, and Jose Bautista’s sacrifice fly snapped a 17-inning scoreless streak for the A.L. that dated to Adrian Gonzalez’s homer off Cliff Lee two years ago in Arizona.
Baltimore’s Adam Jones, wearing bright orange high-tops, doubled against Lee to start the fifth and scored while J.J. Hardy beat out a potential double play. Kipnis doubled home a run in the eighth.