NEW YORK -- Braves closer Craig Kimbrel has spent the past few years compiling an impressive collection of jerseys autographed by some of baseball's greatest players. Some will hang in the man cave he plans to construct and others will aid in his many charitable endeavors.
The crown jewel of this collection was secured on Monday, when Kimbrel received a Yankees jersey that had been autographed by Mariano Rivera.
"He's the best there is and the best there ever has been," Kimbrel said, echoing the sentiments many have had regarding the Yankees closer for many years.
Kimbrel experienced a wave of emotions during the 3-0 loss he and his National League teammates suffered against the American League in Tuesday night's All-Star Game. After allowing a run in the top of the eighth, the Braves closer stayed in the dugout to experience the thrill of seeing Citi Field erupt as Rivera entered to pitch the bottom half of the inning.
"Anytime you have a chance to see something like that, it is pretty special," Kimbrel said. "That doesn't happen every day. I wasn't going to miss that."
With his customary entrance song, "Enter Sandman," blaring through the stadium, Rivera received an overwhelming response as he prepared to make his final appearance in an All-Star Game. The Yankees closer, who will retire at the end of this season, stood on the field alone and turned to acknowledge each side of the stadium during a standing ovation that lasted nearly two minutes.
Rivera then gained his composure in time to pitch a perfect inning that fittingly provided him the honor of being the first closer to ever win the Ted Williams Most Valuable Player Award presented by Chevrolet.
"He's the best pitcher maybe to ever pitch, by far the best closer," said Braves catcher Brian McCann, who also experienced this moment in the NL dugout. "This is something all of us young guys will cherish forever. I think it will hit us more once we're all done playing ball."
The opportunity to watch Rivera pitch in person for the first time erased any of the frustration Kimbrel might have felt after allowing two soft singles and then inducing a double play before Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis delivered an opposite-field RBI double that bounced over the left-center-field fence.
"I got the double play," Kimbrel said. "I thought I had a good chance to get out of it, but I fell behind in the count. Any time you fall behind in the count and you have to throw a fastball, your chances go down. Kipnis was able to put good wood on it and hit it the other way."
Given he is less than three full seasons into his career, it seems somewhat sacrilegious to even attempt to put Kimbrel in Rivera's category. But it at least seems worth noting that the Braves closer is currently on a pace that puts him ahead of where Rivera was at the same point of his career.
Kimbrel has compiled a 1.47 ERA while converting 115 saves with a 89.1 percent success rate through the first 199 appearances of his career.
Rivera's career path was slightly different given the fact that he made 10 starts before being exclusively used as a reliever. But through the first 199 relief appearances of his career, Rivera had compiled a 2.16 ERA and converted 89 saves at an 82.4 percent success rate.
"What Craig has done in his first three years in baseball has never been done before," McCann said. "The numbers he's putting up are gaudy. He's definitely the guy everyone around baseball sees as the best. I think he is and I think he's only going to get better and better."
McCann gained his seventh All-Star selection on Sunday when his Braves teammate Freddie Freeman was deemed unavailable to play because of a jammed left thumb. He did not appear in Tuesday's game. But this was his expectation when he gained the invite to serve as the NL's third catcher, behind Yadier Molina and Buster Posey.
"I knew my time was only going to come in extra innings," McCann said. "I was more than happy to do that."
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.