But those were warmups compared with the final act of Rivera's 19-year, 652-save career, when Derek Jeter and Andy Pettitte, who won four World Series with Rivera from 1996 to 2000, went to the mound in Yankee Stadium on Sept. 26 to remove Rivera from his last game.
Rivera smiled when he saw his two longtime teammates, but after handing the ball to Pettitte he broke down, sobbing on Pettitte's shoulder during a long embrace. Overwhelmed by emotion, a teary-eyed Rivera walked off the mound to a thunderous ovation that seemed to last forever.
It was a slogan for a resilient city in the wake of the April 15 Boston Marathon bombings and a mantra for a gritty, relentless Red Sox team that went from worst to first in the American League East, honoring and embracing bombing victims and first-responders along the way.
Slugger David Ortiz reflected Boston's anger and toughness when, in an emotional Fenway Park speech just days after the attack, he warned terrorists not to mess with Boston because “this is our [expletive] city!” That spirit and tenacity never waned through the summer and fall, for city or team.
St. Louis rode its clutch hitting — the Cardinals hit a major league-record .330 with runners in scoring position — and a rookie-infused pitching staff featuring flame-throwing youngsters such as Michael Wacha, Trevor Rosenthal and Carlos Martinez to its second National League pennant in three years.
But after eliminating the Dodgers in a six-game NL Championship Series, the clutch hits dried up against the Red Sox; St. Louis batted .214 (nine for 42) with runners in scoring position during the World Series.
Dodgers en fuego
The Dodgers nearly fired Manager Don Mattingly when they were 30-42 and in last place on June 22. Then they went on a historic 42-8 run, turning a 91/2-game NL West deficit into an 81/2-game lead.
Clayton Kershaw (7-2, 1.40 earned-run average); Zack Greinke (8-1, 2.25 ERA) and Hyun-Jin Ryu (6-1, 2.94) spurred the run, and the offense averaged 4.79 runs a game. It tied the best 50-game stretch since the Yankees and Cardinals posted the same record in 1941 and 1942, respectively.
Another black eye for a sport rocked by several drug scandals was a victory for those who want to clean up the game, as Alex Rodriguez, Ryan Braun and Nelson Cruz were among 14 players suspended in early August for obtaining performance-enhancing drugs from the now-defunct Biogenesis clinic in Miami.
Rodriguez, who finished out the season while appealing his 211-game suspension, and Braun, who agreed to a 65-game ban after vehemently denying he used PEDs after testing positive for testosterone in 2011, bore the brunt of criticism.
“I think it centers around greed,” Angels pitcher C.J. Wilson said. “The players want to do well to get bigger contracts. That money they earn is tainted, just like their statistics.”
Pittsburgh ended a 20-year playoff drought and snapped a string of 20 straight losing seasons — the longest streak in the four major professional sports — with a playoff run that electrified the city.
The Pirates rode Russell Martin's two homers to a 6-2 win over Cincinnati in the wild-card playoff but lost to St. Louis in a five-game division series.
“Even though I didn't lose for the last 20 years, they make you feel like you did,” center fielder Andrew McCutchen said. “That's all you hear, every single day. ‘When's it going to change?' You get sick of hearing that.”
Miggy vs. Trout II
The most-valuable-player debate of 2012 — Detroit slugger Miguel Cabrera or Angels prodigy Mike Trout? — repeated itself in 2013.
Cabrera led the AL in average (.348), on-base percentage (.442) and slugging (.636) and had 44 homers and 137 RBIs. Trout had a .323/.432/.557 slash line with 27 homers, 97 RBIs, 109 runs and 110 walks.
Cabrera beat Trout for the MVP in 2012 and probably will in 2013. “He won the division and is going to the playoffs,” Trout said in late September. “We're going home.”
Day of Puig
Called up on June 3, Dodgers outfielder Yasiel Puig went two for four and threw from the warning track to first to complete a game-ending double play in his big league debut. The 22-year-old had a score-tying, 443-foot, three-run homer and a two-run blast in his second game, a grand slam in his fourth game and hit .436 in his first month.
There were rough edges — overthrown cutoff men, ill-advised dashes on the bases and a pair of errors in the final game of the NLCS, to name a few — but Puig will provide Dodgers fans with thrills and chills for years.
The Indians, losers of 94 games in 2012, completed a stunning 15-2 finish with a 10-game win streak to nail down their first playoff berth since 2007.
“It's the culmination of everything you've gone through, all the ups and downs,” Manager Terry Francona said. “You see guys from different countries, different upbringings, they're jumping on the pile and it's just pure joy.”
The feeling didn't last long — the Indians lost to Tampa Bay, 4-0, in the wild-card playoff game.
Agony of the feet
No picture captured the thrill of victory and agony of defeat better than the one of Detroit right fielder Torii Hunter flipping over the right-field wall in Fenway Park in a valiant attempt to catch Ortiz's tying grand slam in the eighth inning of Game 2 of the ALCS.
While only Hunter's legs, which formed the letter V, could be seen from the field, a Boston police officer in the back of the bullpen raised both arms in celebration.
The play left Hunter bruised and bloodied, but he remained in the game. “This is the postseason,” said Hunter, 38 and still in search of his first World Series berth. “I'd die on the field for this.”