On this night, when American League manager Terry Francona called for Rivera, the bullpen door swung open as usual. For the briefest of moments, a hush came over the crowd, as they collectively craned their necks and squinted their eyes. Then Rivera entered, and a sweeping gust of noise flowed through the old stadium.
Rivera took one step forward, then hopped into a jog. He did not lift his head until he reached the mound. Then he went to work.
First, Rivera struck out the Cardinals' Ryan Ludwick, keying the first half of a critical double play that concluded with catcher Dioner Navarro throwing out Cristian Guzman at second base. He put two runners on base the following inning, then induced another double play.
Typical Rivera on a typically big stage.
"It was amazing," Rivera said. "I don't have a word for it."
Well, he did. He chose "outstanding," and that was no overstatement. The AL won the longest All-Star Game in history in 15 innings on Tuesday, and Rivera played a significant role. In his home park, the Yankees' closer shined.
Rivera entered with one out in the ninth inning and needed only six pitches to end the inning. Then, after striking out Nate McLouth to open the 10th inning, Rivera allowed consecutive singles to Russell Martin and Miguel Tejada. That seemed troublesome for only a moment, until Rivera induced Dan Uggla to ground into yet another double play.
Then Rivera went back to the bench to watch five more innings unfold.
"And tomorrow," he said, "I'm going to sleep until five o'clock."
The anticipation of Rivera's entrance was what created most of the drama. Faced with a choice between Rivera and his own closer on the Red Sox, Jonathan Papelbon, Francona kept his secret well-guarded all week. Rivera entered the game with 23 saves in 23 chances and a 1.06 ERA. Papelbon entered with 28 saves and a 2.43 ERA. In a different year, in a different park, either would have been a fine choice to close. But this was Yankee Stadium, where Rivera had compiled the bulk of his Hall of Fame credentials. He expected to pitch.
Still, when the ninth inning opened with the game stuck in a tie, Rivera did not come to the mound. Angels closer Francisco Rodriguez did, and the crowd greeted him -- a deserving All-Star -- with a smattering of boos. If Rivera didn't pitch in the ninth, they knew, then there was always a risk of a box score without the closer's name in it.
Francona knew this, too, of course. So with one out, he stopped the game, marched to the mound and called on Rivera. Open the door. Cue the music.
"I was just thinking about getting guys out," Rivera said. "But it was amazing."
Rivera nearly had a chance to earn the win, when the AL loaded the bases with no outs in the bottom of the 10th. And though three straight harmless outs ensured that Rivera would not have a decision, it did nothing to diminish his notable impact.
"Hey, at the end, we won," Rivera said. "And that was the most important thing."