NEW YORK -- For his final All-Star Game, Mariano Rivera entered to his familiar "Enter Sandman," but there was the unfamiliar sight of an empty field around him.
As Rivera jogged in from the right-field bullpen for the eighth inning, none of his teammates took the field to warm up. Instead, both the American League and National League All-Stars stood by their dugouts and joined the sellout crowd of 45,186 at Citi Field for a nearly two-minute standing ovation.
Rivera stood on the mound, took off his cap and acknowledged the reception. He then went on to retire the side, 1-2-3, ending the inning by forcing Carlos Gomez to ground out.
Rivera's performance was good enough to make him the first pitcher since Pedro Martinez in 1999 to be named the All-Star Game MVP and the first New York Yankee since Derek Jeter in 2000. Rivera received a Corvette Stingray for winning the award.
Rivera is the second reliever to win the MVP. In 1975, the Mets' Jon Matlack shared the award with Cubs third baseman Bill Madlock.
At the end of the eighth, with the crowd on its feet again, Rivera walked to the road dugout and was greeted with a hug from Detroit Tigers starter Justin Verlander before being received by the rest of his teammates.
"Amazing," Rivera said when asked to describe the night.
He added that Tuesday night was the best moment of his career outside of winning his five World Series rings.
AL manager Jim Leyland said he used Rivera in the eighth inning instead of the ninth because he wanted to make sure that Rivera pitched in the game. If another reliever blew the game in the eighth and Rivera never appeared, Leyland was worried about the reaction.
"I wanted to make sure I got out of here alive," Leyland said with a laugh.
In his career, Rivera has pitched nine All-Star innings and never allowed an earned run. He has four saves.
Prior to the game, the AL clubhouse was very emotional as Leyland spoke.
"I said I'm not a motivational speaker, but my motivation for tonight is to get to the greatest closer in of all-time," Leyland said.
After he spoke, Leyland had his own Detroit Tiger, Torii Hunter, address the players. Hunter then asked Rivera to speak next.
"I told them, I was honored," Rivera said. "It was a privilege for me to play with all of them. For so many years, this is my 13th year as an All-Star. For many of them, it was their first one. I told them to make sure they enjoy it because it goes by quick."
Leyland said the AL was "fired up" before the first pitch.
In the eighth, Rivera heard his theme song, Metallica's "Enter Sandman," which is usually reserved for across town at Yankee Stadium. Then he noticed that there were no teammates behind him, which he said felt "weird."
"I didn't know how to act," Rivera said. "At that moment, I didn't know what to do."
Instead all the All-Stars were giving him a standing ovation.
"It almost made me cry," Rivera said. "It was close. It was amazing. I will never forget that."
Rivera, 43, announced his retirement during spring training. After missing most of 2012 following knee surgery, Rivera has returned in style in the first half, saving 30 games in 32 chances, pushing his all-time best total to 638.
During the pregame, Rivera received a loud ovation when he was introduced with the rest of his AL teammates. Players in both dugouts glowed about appearing with Rivera for his final All-Star Game.
"It is just kind of an honor to be in the same clubhouse," said Tampa Bay Rays shortstop Ben Zobrist, expressing the overriding sentiment in the All-Star locker room. Rivera has spent the season visiting with fans and longtime employees during the final road series the Yankees have played with opponents. He is doing it, he said, to show his appreciation for people who don't receive as much recognition but have the same love for the game he does.
"Things like that, that come from young boys like that, it is good," Rivera said. "They know why you do it. That's great."
Rivera has been named to a total of 13 All-Star games in his 19 seasons.