NEW YORK — On a night 43-year old Mariano Rivera gave the nation and his adopted hometown more goose bumps with a special moment in his final All-Star appearance, 20-year old Marlins rookie Jose Fernandez kicked off his career in style by joining rare company.
In all, it was definitely a night for great pitching as the American League ended a three-game slide in the MidSummer Classic by shutting out the National League 3-0 in front of a record crowd of 45,186 at Citi Field. It was the first time since 1990 the NL failed to score in the All-Star Game.
But that wasn't the story. It was Rivera, who took home MVP honors for the AL, who will now have home field advantage in the World Series for the first time since 2009 by virtue of their victory. That's the last time the AL won the Fall Classic -- with Rivera clinching the Yankees Game 6 win over the Phillies.
"As a team player you don't look for those things -- they just happen," Rivera said of earning the MVP award. "It's been a privilege."
By far the coolest moment of the night involved Rivera. Moments after 72-year old singer Neil Diamond came out and sang his classic Sweet Caroline for the crowd before the bottom half of the eighth inning, Rivera's infamous walkout song Enter Sandman by Metallica began blaring through the stadium's speakers.
Rivera, who has a major league record 638 career saves, came jogging in from the bullpen to a standing ovation from the crowd and both dugouts. Nobody from either team came out until he was done tipping his cap to each section of the crowd. Rivera said the moment almost made him cry.
"It was a cool thing that just happened," Tigers outfielder Torii Hunter said afterward of why players decided to stay on the bench. "It was awesome man. Let him have the whole field."
Said Rivera: "It was amazing, a scene I will never forget."
Rivera retired Brewers shortstop Jean Segura, Cardinals first baseman Allen Craig and Brewers outfielder Carlos Gomez in order and then walked off to another standing ovation.
"You're talking about one of the best closers in the game, one of the most respected guys in the game," said 21-year old Orioles third baseman and Miami native Manny Machado, who played in his first All-Star Game and was awed when Rivera stood up before his American League teammates and gave a pregame speech.
"For him to get up and speak -- especially for my first All-Star Game -- it's something I'll never forget. It was one of the best experiences of my life."
What was Rivera's message? "Just keep playing hard," Machado said. "and stay humble for the rest of your life."
Machado helped limit the National League to just three hits -- a fourth inning single by Cardinals veteran Carlos Beltran, a seventh inning single by Mets third baseman David Wright and a two-out double in the ninth by Diamondbacks first baseman Paul Goldschmidt. Machado made a nifty play to rob Goldschmidt of another hit in the seventh, when he backhanded a ball deep down the third base line and fired a near-perfect strike to first.
"It was just a regular routine play," Machado said with a smile. "I just made it look tougher."
The AL broke a scoreless tie in the fourth after reigning MVP and Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera ended a string of 18 retired hitters in a row between the teams with a double to the right field gap off the Diamondbacks' Patrick Corbin. After Chris Davis singled to right to put runners on the corners, Cabrera scored easily when Toronto's Jose Bautista hit a long sacrifice fly to center.
The AL added to its lead in the fifth with a similar rally. The Orioles' Adam Jones led off with a double to left off the Phillies Cliff Lee, advanced to third on a Joe Mauer single and scored on a fielder's choice by JJ Hardy.
Yankees second baseman Robinson Cano was an early casualty in Tuesday's game. Moments after Angels' star Mike Trout started the game with a double down the right field line, Cano took a 96-mile per hour fastball from Mets ace Matt Harvey off his right knee. X-rays, luckily for Cano, were negative.
As far as All-Star debuts go, there aren't many pitchers in the history of the game who put on the type of show the Marlins' Fernandez did.
The Cuban defector, who survived a daring sea voyage across the Atlantic five years ago to gain his freedom at age 15, joined Dwight Gooden and Bob Feller as the only pitchers in All-Star history to produce two strikeouts at the MidSummer Classic before their 21st birtday.
"He's really impressive -- especially for the situation," said 2012 NL MVP Buster Posey of the Giants, who caught Fernandez in the sixth. "You figured there would be a lot of nerves and excitement. But he showed great poise and obviously the stuff speaks for itself."
Fernandez sandwiched strikeouts of former MVP Dustin Pedroia and current major league home run leader Davis between getting Triple Crown winner Cabrera to pop out to first.
"Dangerous group of hitters there," Fernandez posted on his Twitter account moments after exiting the game. "I felt like I was going to throw 110."
Fernandez, who wore bright orange shoes with his Twitter handle on them, didn't hit 110 on the radar gun. But he came close.
He hit 98 miles per hour three times on the radar gun against Cabrera, a former Marlin. His strikeouts came on a 96-mile per hour two-seamer at the knees against Pedroia and then a nasty curveball in the dirt against Davis, who slugged 37 homers in the first half of the season.
"He was dirty man," Davis said. "... Knowing where he came from and where he's at, he's got a very high ceiling. He's a guy I'm glad I don't have to see on a regular basis."
Before the game, Fernandez was busy soaking up the All-Star experience. He reached into his locker Tuesday afternoon and pulled out a white Marlins jersey to show a friend.
This wasn't any ordinary jersey, though. It had the autographs of every All-Star in the National League clubhouse on the back, a special keepsake the 20-year old rookie said he plans on putting in a frame and on a wall up in his house.
"I got a bat autographed, too," Fernandez said with a smile on his face. "It's been amazing just to be here talking to all these guys."