Rivera's first All-Star Game save set tone for career

Rivera's first All-Star Game save set tone for career

Mariano Rivera's first All-Star Game was a sign of things to come for the Yankees' closer and baseball's all-time saves leader.

Three up, three down, and drive home safely, folks.

Rivera arrived at the 1997 Midsummer Classic, at what was then known Jacobs Field in Cleveland, to hardly the same fanfare he saw in July at Citi Field. Sure, baseball people and fans were aware of his talent, but he was far from the legend he is today.

The year before, he was John Wetteland's setup man on the Yankees' 1996 World Series championship squad, so dominant in that role that New York let Wetteland walk as a free agent and handed the ninth inning to Rivera.

It wasn't necessarily a smooth transition, as he blew saves in three of his first six opportunities. He eventually settled in -- and discovered his famous cut fastball -- and had 27 saves with a 1.96 ERA at the All-Star break, prompting Yankees manager Joe Torre to choose him for the American League squad.

That All-Star selection wasn't only special because it was Rivera's first. It was also telling of just how great of a season he was having, as he was one of only two relievers on the AL team (Baltimore's Randy Myers was the other), and three in the game overall (San Francisco's Rod Beck represented the National League).

So it was no surprise that Torre entrusted Rivera with a 3-1 lead in the ninth inning of his first All-Star Game. Superstars like Barry Bonds, Tony Gwynn and Mike Piazza were out of the game by the time Rivera took the mound, but the young right-hander still faced some of the NL's top hitters.

Rivera first faced Marlins catcher Charles Johnson, striking him out.

He then got Cubs first baseman Mark Grace to ground out to first before Marlins outfielder Moises Alou lined out to second to end the game.

It was a perfect beginning to an All-Star career.

Cash Kruth is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @cashkruth. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.