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First All-Star save was easy as 1-2-3 for Mariano

First All-Star save was easy as 1-2-3 for Mariano

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As Mariano Rivera prepares to retire, the closer's farewell tour has become a central subplot to the season. Major League Baseball's all-time saves leader has been greeted warmly in each of his road stops, and the Yankees are planning a ceremony of their own to honor Rivera's illustrious career in September.

Rivera will be the last active player to regularly wear uniform No. 42, with the number having been retired throughout MLB in 1997 to honor the achievements of barrier-breaking great Jackie Robinson. During his 19-year big league career, Rivera has also chiseled his own mark on the number's legacy. In honor of Rivera and his contributions, MLB.com is commemorating 42 notable moments from Rivera's career -- the 42 Days of Mo.

Mariano Rivera's first All-Star Game was a sign of things to come for the Yankees closer and all-time great.

Three up, three down and drive home safely, folks.

Rivera -- a 13-time All-Star -- hardly arrived at the 1997 Midsummer Classic to the same fanfare of this July at Citi Field. Sure, baseball people and fans were aware of his talent. But Rivera was far from the legend he is today.

The year before, Rivera was John Wetteland's setup man on the Yanks' 1996 World Series champion squad, so dominant in that role that New York let Wetteland walk as a free agent and handed the ninth inning to Rivera.

It wasn't necessarily a smooth transition, as Rivera blew saves in three of his first six opportunities. He eventually settled in -- and discovered his famous cut fastball -- and had 27 saves and a 1.96 ERA at the All-Star break, getting chosen for the team by Yankees manager Joe Torre.

That All-Star selection wasn't only special because it was Rivera's first. It also was telling of just how great of a season he was having, as he was one of only two relievers chosen for the American League team (along with Baltimore's Randy Myers) and three overall (San Francisco's Rod Beck).

So it was no surprise that Torre entrusted Rivera with a 3-1 lead in the ninth inning of his first All-Star Game. Superstars like Barry Bonds, Tony Gwynn and Mike Piazza were out of the game by the time Rivera took the mound, but the young right-hander still faced some of the NL's top hitters.

Rivera first faced Marlins catcher Charles Johnson, striking him out. He then got Cubs first baseman Mark Grace to ground out to first before Marlins outfielder Moises Alou lined out to second to end the game.

It was a perfect beginning to an All-Star career.

Cash Kruth is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @cashkruth. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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