Big Apple's big stage brings encounters with greatness, fond memories
NEW YORK -- Baseball's 84th All-Star Game will long be remembered as Mariano Rivera's last.
His entrance -- aside from it being an inning earlier than usual -- was perfect, with "Enter Sandman" playing and his fellow All-Stars filing out of the dugout and from the bullpen to give the Yankees closer his due moment of recognition. The Cardinals' contingent of six was among those to honor Rivera, a memory each is certain to take back to St. Louis.
For a pair of first-time Cardinals All-Stars, however, their memory of the future Hall of Famer will be especially personal. Allen Craig faced him. Edward Mujica met him. It was a meaningful culmination to the All-Star experience for both.
"That was probably one of the coolest at-bats I've had in my career," said Craig, one of three batters Rivera retired in the eighth. "I just thought it was extremely special that the stars kind of aligned for me to have a chance to face him. I respect him so much and the career that he has had."
Craig became the fourth Cardinal to appear in the game when he batted for designated hitter Michael Cuddyer in the inning. He had never previously faced Rivera, though he was hardly surprised by what he saw. Rivera threw Craig six of his trademark cutters -- a pitch Adam Wainwright had earlier in the day described as "a fairy-tale pitch" -- and eventually retired Craig on a lineout to left.
"You can definitely see why he's had such an amazing career," Craig said. "I did the best I could. I hit it hard, right at him. I had a good at-bat, but I'll just remember getting in the box facing him."
Though he warmed up in both the fifth and ninth innings, Mujica never did take the Citi Field mound. However, he insisted after the National League's 3-0 loss, that he would gladly trade an inning on Tuesday for the encounter that happened out of the spotlight a day earlier.
That was when he met his idol, Rivera.
"I went up to Mariano and said, 'Hey, my name is Mujica,'" the Cardinals closer said. "He told me, 'I know you. You're doing a pretty good job. Keep working hard and be yourself.' It was amazing. He's the greatest closer in baseball."
As for the full two-day experience?
"They gave me this great opportunity," Mujica said. "I'm so happy right now. I'm an All-Star. Mujica is going to be an All-Star now. Mujica is going to be a big name."
Carlos Beltran and Yadier Molina were the first to represent the Cardinals on Tuesday, as each had earned a place in the starting lineup thanks to overwhelming fan support. Molina, who received more fan votes than any other NL player, became just the fifth player in Cardinals history to be a fan-chosen starter at least three times.
Having entered the game with three hits in his previous four All-Star at-bats, Molina, now a five-time All-Star, had a quiet night. He finished 0-for-2 with a flyout and groundout. Molina caught four different NL pitchers during his five innings on the field.
He shared the All-Star experience with a large contingent of family members -- including brother and Cardinals assistant hitting coach, Bengie Molina -- in a city that he called "the capital of the world."
"You want to play here at this type of event," Molina said. "It's nothing against other cities, but New York is different. There are so many people, and everybody is watching. It's fun to be here."
Beltran, in a homecoming for the former Met, finished 1-for-2 in his appearance. His fourth-inning single off Mariners ace Felix Hernandez was the NL's first hit of the night. Pirates outfielder Andrew McCutchen replaced him as a pinch-runner.
Molina was pulled after the fifth, when NL manager Bruce Bochy made his first big wave of substitutions. It was at that same time that Matt Carpenter went in to replace Cincinnati's Brandon Phillips at second.
Carpenter, one of the three first-time Cardinals All-Stars, flied out in the sixth. In the next inning, the recently converted second baseman showed some glove work, helping turn a double play to erase a leadoff walk. Carpenter's at-bat against Texas' Joe Nathan in the ninth ended with a strikeout.
"It was a pretty surreal moment," Carpenter said. "You dream as a kid of playing baseball in the big leagues. But to take it a step forward and play in an All-Star Game is just wonderful. And to have your family here to see it is such a special thing."
Watching the night unfold from the dugout was Wainwright, who had pulled himself out of consideration to pitch after starting two days earlier. The second-time All-Star said he embraced the opportunity to relax and observe on Tuesday, adding that he would "get my pompoms out and try to be the best National League cheerleader we have today."
Wainwright was nevertheless thrilled to return to the site -- albeit, in a new stadium -- where he had what he describes as "the defining moment of my career." Of course, that would be the save he recorded to clinch the Cardinals' NL Championship Series win over the Mets in 2006.
Many in the crowd remembered that moment, too, which explained the ring of boos during Wainwright's on-field introduction. He took the reception in stride: "That's sort of a compliment, too," he said, "to be booed."