Mariano Rivera steals show in last All-Star Game

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Mariano Rivera steals show in last All-Star Game

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NEW YORK – The 84th All-Star Game was played Tuesday night in New York City, in the borough of Queens.

But the script came straight out of Hollywood.

That much was undeniable as the American League shut out the National League, 3-0, with New York baseball legend Mariano Rivera, the greatest closer in the history of the game, coming out of the bullpen and getting three outs in his final All-Star Game.

The 43-year-old right-hander, a 13-time All-Star who will retire at season’s end, pitched the bottom of the eighth inning and was named the game’s MVP.

Rivera, whose 638 saves are the most ever, jogged onto the field with his familiar entry song, Metallica’s "Enter Sandman," blaring over the stadium loud speakers.

When Rivera reached the mound, he looked around and saw he was the only man on the field. His AL teammates waited in the dugout so Rivera could have the spotlight.

“We came up with that before the game,” AL outfielder Torii Hunter said. “We wanted him to get his due, to have him tip his hat. He’s a great guy. He’s done his job and never complained. We respect him. That’s what you do for a guy like that.”

As flashbulbs popped, Rivera lifted his cap to the crowd of 45,186 -- the largest ever at the ballpark -- and was saluted with a standing ovation. His AL teammates came out in front of the dugout and tipped their caps to him before taking the field.

Rivera was clearly moved by his teammates’ gesture. He did not know it was coming.

“The whole thing was amazing,” he said. “I have no words for it. It’s been a wonderful night. The only thing that will top this is the World Series.”

It was an All-Star sendoff reminiscent of the one Cal Ripken Jr. received in Seattle in 2001. In that game, Alex Rodriguez, the AL shortstop, moved to third base before the game’s first pitch so Ripken could get one more moment at shortstop, his original position in the major leagues.

Rivera pitched a 1-2-3 eighth inning, threw 16 pitches, and got the hold. The save went to Joe Nathan. AL manager Jim Leyland went to Rivera in the eighth because he didn’t want to risk the NL rallying against a different pitcher in the inning and eliminating the need for the bottom of the ninth inning.

It turned out to be a memorable moment for everyone.

With the victory, the AL gained home-field advantage in the World Series, no small matter considering the team with home-field advantage has won 25 of 32 World Series since 1980.

It was not a particularly good night for the Phillies’ representatives. Not only were Domonic Brown and Cliff Lee on the losing side, but neither performed well. Lee pitched an inning and gave up two hits and a run. Down 2-0 with a man on base in the seventh inning, Brown struck out on three pitches against Toronto lefty Brett Cecil (see story).

In the top of the eighth inning, with two outs, Brown appeared to misplay a ball off the bat of Jason Kipnis and it went for an RBI double.

Matt Harvey was the no-brainer starting pitcher in this game. The 24-year-old right-hander earned the assignment by going 7-2 with a 2.35 ERA and an NL-best 147 strikeouts before the break. While performance was the primary reason for Harvey’s selection as starter, there was an understandable sentimental reason: The All-Star Game was back at the home of the New York Mets for the first time since Johnny Callison won it for the NL in 1964. Harvey, of course, is the Golden Boy of the Mets and their future.

“People who haven’t seen him yet are going to see something pretty special,” Mets manager Terry Collins, a member of the NL coaching staff, said on Monday.

Harvey, who can heat his fastball up to triple digits, had some jitters early. Mike Trout, the pride of Millville, N.J., hit the first pitch of the game, a 97-mph heater, down the right-field line for a double. Harvey then plunked Robinson Cano of the cross-city Yankees on the right quadriceps muscle with a 96-mph fastball. Harvey settled down and got out of the inning on two strikeouts and a fly ball.

Cano was able to take first base after being hit on the right leg, but he left the game shortly after. As he walked across the diamond to the AL dugout, he looked at Harvey, who patted his chest as if to apologize and say, “My bad.” An X-ray on Cano’s leg was negative. Players always go home with a boatload of souvenirs from the All-Star Game. Cano’s souvenir was black and blue.

“Obviously that was the last thing I wanted to do -- to go out there and injure someone,” Harvey said afterward. “I think he understood it wasn’t intentional. I apologize.”

Harvey pitched two innings and allowed just the one hit while striking out three.

Phillies fans know all about Harvey. He has beaten the Phils twice this season, allowing just five hits and one run, while striking out 15 and walking just three in 13 innings. Harvey is scheduled to face the Phillies and Lee on Sunday at Citi Field.

Max Scherzer, the AL starter and 13-game winner from the Detroit Tigers, pitched just one perfect inning and threw 12 pitches.

The AL used 10 pitchers to complete the three-hit shutout.

But the night belonged to one pitcher -- Mariano Rivera.

Phillies officially sign outfielder Michael Saunders, DFA Severino Gonzalez

Phillies officially sign outfielder Michael Saunders, DFA Severino Gonzalez

The Phillies on Thursday officially announced the signing of outfielder Michael Saunders to a one-year deal with a club option for 2018. 

According to Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal, Saunders will make $9 million this season with the Phillies and the club option for 2018 will be worth $11 million with escalators potentially pushing it to $14 million.

Saunders, 30, is the left-handed hitting outfield bat the Phils were seeking. He hit 24 home runs for the Blue Jays last season in his walk year, making the AL All-Star team before slumping in the second half.

Saunders hit .298/.372/.551 with 16 homers in 82 games for the Blue Jays before the All-Star break, then hit .178/.282/.357 with eight homers in 58 games after.

He had a good year against same-handed pitching, hitting .275 with a .927 OPS and eight homers against lefties. 

He'll likely start in right field for the Phillies, with Odubel Herrera in center and Howie Kendrick in left (see Phils' projected lineup).

It was important to Phillies GM Matt Klentak that the player he signed to fill the spot in the outfield was not going to block young outfielders like Roman Quinn, Nick Williams and others.

On a one-year deal, Saunders came relatively cheap to the Phils, lingering in free agency as other hitters found contracts. In the middle of last summer, Saunders seemed poised for a multi-year contract like the four-year, $52 million deal Josh Reddick signed with the Astros. His second half cost him some money.

To make room on the 40-man roster for Saunders, the Phillies designated right-hander Severino Gonzalez for assignment.

Tommy Joseph focused on earning first base job, taking more walks

Tommy Joseph focused on earning first base job, taking more walks

There was no better story of personal triumph on the Phillies' roster than Tommy Joseph in 2016.

Dumped from the 40-man roster and passed over by 29 other teams on the waiver wire and in the Rule 5 draft in 2015, he reported to minor-league camp with his career on the line last spring.

Two months later, thanks to good health and a molten bat, Joseph's career began to spike upward.

But 4½ months in the big leagues and the promise of a starting job in the majors in 2017 hasn't changed Joseph's outlook or the mindset he will take into spring training camp next month.

He's still going to scrap and claw for everything, just like he did a year ago when he was fighting for his baseball life after a series of concussions put his career in jeopardy.

"I'm preparing the same way I did last winter," Joseph said during an offseason stop at Citizens Bank Park on Wednesday.

"The job is not given to me. I still have to win it. I'm not going to walk in and have it. Obviously, it's mine to take and I plan on going in and winning the job."

Joseph, 25, earned a significant slice of the starting first base job last year. But with Ryan Howard, the last piece of the 2008 World Series team, gone, Joseph has a chance to stake an even greater claim to the position in 2017 and establish himself as a serious building block in the Phillies' rebuild.

"Tommy came out of nowhere last year," manager Pete Mackanin said. "There's something to be excited about there. He was off the map and he did enough to warrant a real strong look this year. And hopefully, he can improve and take baby steps toward being a final product."

Joseph pushed himself to the majors and cut into Howard's playing time last season by hitting .347 with six homers, 17 RBIs and a .981 OPS in 27 games at Triple A. He came to the majors in mid-May and hit .257 with 21 homers and 47 RBIs in 107 games. In the fall, Joseph briefly played winter ball in the Dominican Republic, but right wrist tendinitis, now fully healed, cut the stint short.

Joseph's good showing at the plate in 2016 was partly the result of his finding good health. As he recovered from a fifth concussion in the summer of 2015, it was discovered that he had a series of ocular problems. They were addressed through therapy and ... well, it's amazing what a hitter can do when he can see the ball.

This year, Joseph will look to improve in the field. The converted catcher is looking to add quickness around the first base bag and that starts with better footwork. At the urging of bench coach/infield instructor Larry Bowa, Joseph has been jumping rope and doing box drills all winter.

Joseph also wants to improve his approach and mindset at the plate. Though he wants to drive the ball like his size — 235 pounds — and position dictate, he wants to improve his on-base percentage and thus his OPS, on-base plus slugging percentage.

Joseph struck out 75 times and walked just 22 times in 347 plate appearances in 2016 and his on-base percentage was just .308. But over the final month of the season, he made an effort to be more selective at the plate and he recorded a .327 batting average and .406 on-base percentage (while slugging .618) over the final 23 games of the season. He struck out 10 times but walked seven over that span.

"My whole career has been a battle when it comes to walking," Joseph said. "I started to listen and read more what veterans around the league were saying about on-base percentage and OPS. Slugging is important on the corners, but there are times you have to take your walks. It's relevant because the best players in the game have a high OPS."

Joseph needs to improve in this area for a couple of reasons. First, the front office is intent on building a long-term lineup around players who control the strike zone, i.e., those who don't chase bad pitches. And second, the Phils have a legitimate run-producing first base prospect in Rhys Hoskins set to take his game to Triple A in 2017.

Joseph knows all of this and takes nothing for granted.

"The only difference this year will be I'm on the big-league side in spring training, but everything still has to be earned," he said.

The Phillies ranked last in the majors — or "last in the world," as Mackanin said — with just 610 runs scored in 2016. The offseason additions of Howie Kendrick and Michael Saunders should help run production. So, too, should expected improvements from Maikel Franco and Joseph, two players who have the chance to be long-term building blocks.

"We've got guys at the big-league level that I choose to think are going to get better," Mackanin said. "Tommy Joseph is a perfect example."