Despite Gathering Clouds, Mo's Night To Shine

Mariano Rivera in the post game press conference at Citi Field.

NEW YORK — The bats, balls and just about every piece of baseball memorabilia imaginable were lined up neatly, precisely on a long table inside the American League clubhouse.

Most were for All-Stars to be signed by All-Stars. All of them begged to be signed by Mariano Rivera. It was clear by late Tuesday afternoon the only way Mo would not pitch in the 84th All-Star Game was if he suffered severe writer's cramp.

"I'm signing all kind of stuff," Rivera said. "It's never enough. They know it's my last year. I can't escape from it, but it's OK. They're good guys."

With Mets righthander Matt Harvey, the Connecticut kid throwing two scoreless innings in his first All-Star Game, and with the Yankees' Rivera, the greatest closer in history pitching in his 13th and final All-Star Game, there was an unmistakable charge of electricity and sentimentality running through New York on this hot July night.

It was a clear, clean jolt of emotion. The sky above Citi Field had been entirely blue during the afternoon. The voices in support of Harvey and Rivera were clear and mighty, too, although Yankee fans later were in no mood to celebrate Harvey after he hit Robinson Cano above the knee in the lower quad with a 96 mph fastball in the first inning. Yes, the night got a little messy, a little cloudy. And maybe that's only fitting. Because despite protestations by commissioner Bud Selig, when the night ended with a 3-0 American League victory, a dark cloud, a big mess, still hung over major league baseball. It is a cloud, a mess that isn't going away anytime soon.

I don't like it. You don't like it. Selig not only doesn't like it, he denies its existence. But that's what the Biogenesis investigation, stretching to more than 20 players and now looking as if it will stretch into 2014, has done to the game. The game's highest-paid player [Alex Rodriguez] and the 2011 NL MVP [Ryan Braun], not to mention four players selected to the All-Star Game [Everth Cabrera, Bartolo Colon, Nelson Cruz and Jhonny Peralta] are ensnared in an investigation that involves performance-enhancing drugs.

"This idea that there's this cloud hanging over baseball, the last nine years have been the best years in baseball attendance history," Selig said earlier Tuesday on "The Mike and Mike Show" on ESPN Radio. "The interest all over is remarkable. We're setting up with great races. We have the toughest drug-testing program in American sports. We have a program that [World Anti-Doping Agency] — the gold standard — says is the best program in America. We are enforcing it in a very aggressive way because we have this tough testing program. We are the only American sport that tests for human growth hormone."

Selig went on to describe how last year 4,200 tests were administered in the majors last year. How there were eight positives and each resulted in a suspension. How one only half of one percent of the tests was positive. A day earlier, during a question and answer period arranged by Politico, Selig went so far as to declare, ''This sport is cleaner than it's ever been."

The beauty of that last statement is there is no way to prove or disprove it. With HGH, masking agents and so many complex pharmaceutical nuances, no one can ever be sure how far the bad guys are ahead of the good guys. But believe this much: After falling so woefully behind in the fight against PEDs 10-15 years ago, Selig, despite his denials, got religion in recent years. MLB is going after the 20 or so players involved in the Biogenesis probe with a determined sword. Good. MLB just has to be right. And if they are right, if they have the necessary evidence, and they can make suspensions stick, they will prove they can severely punish players without an actual positive test.

"People say, 'Well, you were slow to react.' We were not slow to react,'' Selig said. "Now some people say now that I'm over-vigilant because I'm worried about my legacy, That's nonsense. This is in the best interests of baseball.''

On Tuesday, players association chief Michael Weiner said that while MLB could decide its suspensions in the coming days, with potential appeals it is possible the players involved would not serve any of a wide range of possible penalties until the 2014 season. So it will drag on, as much as we hate it. Live with it, folks.

While Harvey didn't match the legendary performances of Carl Hubbell in 1934 or Pedro Martinez in 1999, he did strike out three and hit 99 mph on the radar gun in a strong showing made all the more flamboyant by his decision to join teammate David Wright and wear fluorescent orange cleats. After a first-pitch double by Mike Trout and hitting Cano, he stranded two runners in the first. Harvey said he tried to throw an inside fastball, but felt that he cut it a little bit.

"I was hoping he still could get out of the way," Harvey said. "I obviously feel terrible about hitting him. The last thing I wanted to do was go out there and possibly injure somebody. When he came off, I apologized and made sure that he was OK. I think he understood it wasn't intentional."

Still, it was a little messy. Cano was saying he believes it is just a bruise, but Yankees fans will not forget it. And with Cano dropping Scott Boras as an agent and going to Jay-Z, the jokes will continue that Boras made Harvey do it. That's a joke, folks.

What isn't a joke is the Orioles' Chris Davis saying he recognizes Roger Maris' 61 home runs as the legitimate season record. Not, Barry Bonds' 72. Not Sammy Sosa's three seasons with at least 60. And not Mark McGwire's two. Yahoo interviewed 15 All-Stars, and 14 disagreed with Davis. Joey Votto even suggested that Davis was being selfish. A lot of fans, however, will agree. And if he hits 62 homers, if he passes drug tests, here's one vote for recognizing Davis as the single-season home run king.

And what about David Ortiz? Will Hall of Fame voters hold the fact that Ortiz acknowledged his name was on a list of players who tested positive for PEDS in 2003? That debate re-emerged last week in Boston after Big Papi set the record for hits by a designated hitter. Ortiz said he was careless back buying supplements and vitamins over the counter, but never bought or used steroids. Red Sox fans will believe what they want to believe. I know it's a vote I will wrestle with 10 years from now.

Yes, it's a little messy.

As he warmed up before the game in the bullpen, the fans began chanting Harvey's name. He said that's something as a kid you couldn't dream of:

"I was texting with LaTroy Hawkins after I came out, and he said, 'You look like you're walking in the park.' But there was some jitters going in the bullpen. Once I got out there, I felt great.

"This whole experience has just been breathtaking. It's something I'll never forget."

The Yankee fans won't let him. Nor will circumstances allow Selig to forget the larger consequences that face the game.

It's easier with Mariano. He is unquestioned greatness. He is unquestioned integrity. He is unquestioned dignity. Before the game he talked about the long, hard rehab from his knee injury that cost him 2012. He talked about how he talked to himself and told himself it would be worth it.

And it was when Rivera, entering to his signature "Enter Sandman," walked to the mound in the eighth. The place stood. The place went nuts. Players in both dugouts stood and cheered. It was a great moment, a precious moment, but it was only the eighth. Maybe manager Jim Leyland thought it was 1996 and John Wetteland was still the Yankees closer. Clearly, Leyland didn't want to risk somebody else blowing it and there being no bottom of the ninth, but, really, the AL had a 3-0 lead. Mariano, the greatest closer in history, was named MVP for a "hold."

A little awkward, a little messy, but it fit the night.

CHICAGO