NEW YORK — Joe Nathan never expected to be pitching for a save. Not with baseball's career saves leader alongside him in the bullpen.
The Texas Rangers closer was called upon to finish off the American League's 3-0 win Tuesday night in the All-Star game at Citi Field after Mariano Rivera came on for the eighth inning.
"I didn't know I was coming in to close until I was actually coming in from the bullpen," Nathan said.
No slouch of a stopper himself, Nathan has 328 saves for Minnesota, Texas and San Francisco in a 13-year career. He has 30 this season — the same as Mo.
But everyone in the bullpen was ready to defer to Rivera on this night.
The six-time All-Star struck out Matt Carpenter looking and Andrew McCutchen swinging before Paul Goldschmidt doubled. Nathan then retired fellow New York native Pedro Alvarez on a popup to second base.
After the final out, Nathan got the game ball but he knew it didn't belong to him. He gave it to Mo.
"No brainer. I wanted it, but I wanted to give it to him more," Nathan said. "Outstanding to be able to hand the ball over to him that I saved with him the in bullpen was pretty cool. No secret how much I look up to him and be able to do that for him was awesome.
CANO, CANO: Miguel Cabrera flung his bat into the stands when he swung and missed at a pitch from Patrick Corbin in the fourth inning. The flying bat nearly hit a child wearing, yup, a Robinson Cano Yankees jersey.
The real Cano had less luck than the boy. He was hit on the right leg by a pitch from Matt Harvey in the first inning and had to come out of the game.
"It's a little tight, I came out of the game because I didn't want to aggravate it," he said. "Nothing bad. They told me it's a bruise, and ice the next few days."
TORII TIME: Torii Hunter was an All-Star rookie in 2002 when he robbed Barry Bonds of a home run and got a big bear hug from the slugger on the field. Now he's a veteran voice in a clubhouse with a record number of newcomers.
The always loquacious, ever-smiling 37-year-old Detroit Tigers outfielder is enjoying his role as a five-time All-Star selection.
With possible suspensions from the Biogenesis investigation looming over the game, Hunter defended Alex Rodriguez and other players who have been implicated in drug scandals over the years.
"I know how hard this game really is. I don't care what they did or who did or whatever, Barry Bonds all those guys," Hunter said Tuesday before the game at Citi Field. "Still impressive to hit. Still got to hit the ball."
On the lighter side, Hunter has his favorite All-Stars. Wacky All-Stars, that is.
"David Oritz, for sure, craziest forever. He sits here and holds court and tells all the jokes," Hunter said. "He is one of the funniest guys in All-Star game history."
There's also: "Ichiro (Suzuki). Manny (Ramirez). Ah, Manny. Forgot about Manny. Ooh, boy he was crazy. Can't tell you the stories. Pedro (Martinez) was funny. He put bubble gum in everybody's hats."
"You got to have fun in this clubhouse," he added. "This is how we relax."
The one player he is certain isn't crazy: Yankees injured shortstop Derek Jeter.
"Jeter's smooth. He's like a cold drink of water. Too cool for school," Hunter said.
So what did Bonds say to Hunter 11 years ago when he scooped him up near second base in Milwaukee?
"'Good catch kid, high five,'" Hunter said "I went high, he went low and picked me up. I tried to hold him down. Too strong."
HAVE PEN HANDY: Mets captain David Wright looked down the row of dozens of baseballs lined up in his home clubhouse for the All-Stars to sign and sighed.
Being one of the host players for this year's All-Star game, demands on his time have been high. There is one part of the festivities that excites him, though.
"The special part for me is when the doors close and you kind of get to hang out with the guys and be around the best players in baseball," he said.
Wright then got back to signing the 27 dozen balls, 15 bats, 10 player placards and 11 All-Star jerseys laid out for everyone to autograph.
STRAY-A: Grant Balfour of Oakland is only the second Australian player to be an All-Star. The first was in 1999, when Brewers catcher Dave Nilsson was selected to the game in Boston. Balfour got the nod in part because he is perfect in 25 save attempts this season for the first-place A's. He and starter Bartolo Colon were the only Oakland players selected.
"For the team, we would have liked to see more players here, no doubt," Balfour said. "It didn't work out that way. ... We've got a team, they can get fired up and go out and show it on the field."
Balfour pitched a scoreless inning Tuesday.
NUMBERS GUY: Clayton Kershaw's not a fan of using win-loss records to evaluate pitchers. Two seasons ago, he went 21-5, helping him to win the Cy Young Award.
He's aware that wins and losses rely on lots of factors beyond pitchers' control.
"It definitely feels good as a starting pitcher to have a good win-loss record," Kershaw said. "I don't think it's the most important thing, by any means."
What, then, does the three-time All-Star think is a more useful stat?
Kershaw is 8-6 with a 1.98 ERA this season.
"I think innings pitched is the most important. I think it kind of just encompasses everything. If you're going deep into games you're giving (your) team a chance to win, you're setting up your bullpen, it's probably going to be a close game if you're still in there late," he said.
Kershaw has pitched 145 1-3 innings in 20 starts this year, a little more than seven per start, meaning that topping his career high of 233 1-3 from 2011 is in reach.