Joe Nathan had no idea the ninth inning would be his until, well, the ninth inning.
Nathan, Glen Perkins and Mariano Rivera were all warming up prior to the eighth inning. Rivera, the game's all-time saves leader, seemed to be the logical choice for the ninth inning. But American League manager Jim Leyland gave the ball to Rivera in the eighth inning, as a special moment unraveled with Rivera entering the game to an empty field.
He received a rousing ovation from the largest crowd in Citi Field history, and players in both dugouts cheered him on. That left Nathan in a pressure-filled situation, closing out a game in which Rivera had "held."
Nathan got the job done, working around a two-out double in a scoreless ninth to close out the American League's 3-0 victory over the National League in the 84th Midsummer Classic.
"I'll calm down sometime next week when I get a one-run game or something," said Nathan, who grew up in the New York area. "I'll be a lot more calm."
It clearly ranks as one of the career highlights for Nathan, who will become the leading saves leader next season after Rivera retires. Nathan put the moment up there with his big league debut.
"It's something I’ll never forget," Nathan said. "There are moments in this game you remember very clear and this will be one of them."
Nathan said he would have liked to see Rivera close the ninth like everybody else, but Leyland would have run the risk of having to go to Rivera in the middle of the eighth should have the NL got the go-ahead run to the plate.
In the end, it didn't take away from the moment.
"You don't know what can happen in the game of baseball," Rivera said. "Anything can happen and it happens quick. The decision was OK. We won, that was the most important thing.
"It's been a wonderful night, the whole event. It has been amazing. I have no words to describe this night."
In nice gestures, Prince Fielder handed Rivera the ball after the final out in the eighth and Nathan gave him the ball from the final out of the night.
Nathan generally keeps the ball from his saves, but said: "I wanted it, but I wanted to give it to him even more.
"He's a legend in this game. Hopefully he has taught a bunch of people how to act as human beings and as baseball players. What he does for people in the game, outside the game, he's a hero. He's a true hero."
-- Drew Davison