NEW YORK (AP) — The great ones get the stage to themselves.
Mariano Rivera was held in the bullpen out in right-center field until Neil Diamond had sung the final words of "Sweet Caroline" in the middle of the eighth inning during Tuesday night's All-Star 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.
Quiet, reserved and understated during nearly a quarter-century in a sport that took him from Panama to the pantheon of pinstriped pitchers, Rivera was being honored with that rarest of baseball tributes — a solo bow.
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.
He took off his cap, waved it to all sides of the ballpark. He touched his hat to his heart.
His AL All-Star teammates stood by the third-base dugout rail and applauded, just like the fans. So did his NL opponents on the first-base side. With no other players in fair territory, he finally started tossing his warmup pitches to catcher Salvador Perez.
"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 NL somehow 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.