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All-Star Game: Mariano Rivera, American League Hero

Mariano Rivera’s first All-Star Game was in 1997, his first year as a full-time closer. In the ninth inning at Jacobs Field in Cleveland, Rivera retired Charles Johnson, Mark Grace, and Moises Alou to secure the American League’s 3–1 win with his first All-Star save. The win ended the AL’s three-game losing streak, and the League hasn’t lost since. Rivera, who has been named to nine All-Star teams since then, is a major reason why.

And Rivera did it again last night, shutting down the NL 1-2-3 in the ninth inning at Busch Stadium in St. Louis to close a 4–3 victory. The AL has now won twelve All-Star Games in a row, and Rivera still has never given up an earned run in an All-Star Game, through a total of eight innings.

Getting past the bizarre fact that he saved a win for Jonathan Papelbon last night, Rivera’s achievement is particularly impressive when you consider those eight innings, almost a full game, are against the best players in baseball every season. Sure, the All-Star Game isn’t as competitive as Bud Selig would like it to be — the game last night lasted a blink-of-an-eye two hours and 31 minutes, the shortest game in more than a decade — and many of the players, particularly exhausted All-Star host Albert Pujols, looked ready to go home by the fourth inning. But Rivera’s All-Star dominance is just one more notch, a minor but historic one, in an increasingly legendary career.

Rivera continues to make the case that he might be not only the greatest closer of all time, but the greatest pitcher. Sports Illustrated’s Joe Posnanski pointed out earlier this month that Rivera is the all-time leader in ERA+, a wonkish sabermetric stat considered by many to be the most accurate way to gauge a pitcher’s effectiveness. Stats aside, Yankees fans know what it’s like to watch Rivera in person, but up until now, no one in St. Louis did — he’d never played there before. Rivera himself was introduced to another known fact of baseball: the cheery, devout yokelness of St. Louis fans. As a somewhat bewildered Jeter put it, “It’s a nice stadium, but the fans are what stand out the most. Everyone in this city wears red. It’s like a rule or something.”

Rivera will surely be back for next year’s All-Star game in Anaheim, and then the one in Arizona, and in Kansas City. And he’ll surely shut down the National League again. Now that home-field advantage is decided by the All-Star Game, you could argue that Mariano Rivera has been the most valuable pitcher not just for the Yankees, but the American League. Now it’s up to the rest of the Yankees to make this year worth his trouble. The last thing anybody wants is Rivera clinching home-field advantage in the World Series for the Red Sox.

Related: Report: Citi Field to Host 2013 All-Star Game

All-Star Game: Mariano Rivera, American League Hero