Mariano Rivera received one of the rarest of baseball tributes at the 2013 All-Star game — a solo bow.
Rivera was held in the bullpen until Neil Diamond had sung the final words of "Sweet Caroline" in the middle of the eighth inning during Tuesday night's 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.
As he reached the brown circle in the center of 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.
The quiet, reserved and understated player whose nearly quarter a century career in baseball took him from Panama to the pantheon of pinstriped pitchers took off his cap, waved it to all sides of the ballpark, and touched his hat to his heart.
Everyone at Citi Field from his AL All-Star teammates to his NL opponents applauded Rivera, just like the fans. With no other players in fair territory, he finally started tossing his warmup 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 NLsomehow 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."
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. At 43, Rivera was the oldest All-Star since Carlton Fisk in 1991.
Of course, he was selected the All-Star MVP. Never having had a chance for a talk, Mets star David Wright pulled Rivera aside at baseball's red-carpet event before the game.
"Before it was too late, I had enough courage to kind of go grab him and just tell him how much I appreciate his body of work, the way he carries himself, how great of an ambassador he is to this game," Wright said. "Forget about the numbers. Forget about being the greatest closer of all-time. The way he carries himself and the way he goes about his business is special."
After the game, still smiling, sometimes laughing, Rivera spoke in the interview room as his family stood behind him.
"It was tough. It was special," an emotional Rivera said. "Seeing the fans sharing and both teams standing out of the dugout, managers, coaches, players — priceless."
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."
Based on reporting by The Associated Press.