NEW YORK -- The pitcher who threw the final pitch of the 2012 season stepped into a hotel elevator at the All-Star game and found himself face to face with the one who has closed out more games than any player in major league history.
When Giants closer Sergio Romo met New York Yankees closer Mariano Rivera, Romo made sure to shake the legend's hand and tell Rivera how much he respected him.
"He said, 'Thank you, Romo,' and I was like, 'He knows my name!' " Romo said, smiling. "That was one of the coolest parts of the All-Star game. I got to meet that man, and he actually knew my name."
Rivera has long been a household name, and not just because he pitches for the Yankees, who host the Giants for a three-game series this weekend. The right-hander will retire at the end of this season as Major League Baseball's all-time saves leader (651 and counting). A surefire Hall of Famer, Rivera has an 0.70 ERA in 96 postseason appearances.
As a leaguewide farewell tour has shown, Rivera is respected for more than just the historic numbers. He has been celebrated in every road city, receiving gifts ranging from a custom beach cruiser to a rocking chair made entirely of broken bats.
The Giants will deliver a present of their own this weekend, and several former Yankees on the Giants coaching staff have been asked to join in as the Yankees celebrate Rivera before Sunday's game. For those who have crossed paths with Rivera, it's easy to explain why a retirement announcement has turned into a farewell tour.
Giants right-hander George Kontos picked Rivera's mind as a Yankees farmhand and remembers him as "a true professional in a class of his own," always willing to help young pitchers. Romo said Rivera has "set the gold standard" for the job, and manager Bruce Bochy lit up when recalling how he and Rivera ended up on the same bus after the All-Star game.
"You'd think he would have been in a limo, but here he is on a bus back to the hotel with his family," Bochy said. "That was one of my highlights of the All-Star game. He's just a guy that's so humble and so appreciative of everything that's happened."
That history includes a meeting with Bochy's Padres in the 1998 World Series, when Rivera picked up three of his 42 postseason saves in a Yankees sweep. Fifteen years later, Rivera is still in peak form, saving 43 games this season at the age of 43 and making his 13th All-Star team.
Rivera has been around so long that he has more connections to Giants coaches than players. Hitting coach Hensley Meulens played for the Yankees in the early 1990s and remembers giving equipment to Rivera. First base coach Roberto Kelly played with Rivera on the 2000 championship team.
Pitching coach Dave Righetti has met Rivera just once, when the Yankees retired Don Mattingly's number in 1997, but the two are forever linked in the record books. Righetti pitched 11 seasons in New York and held the franchise record for saves (224) and appearances (522) before Rivera came along. Righetti set a franchise record with 46 saves in 1986, a mark Rivera has broken twice while saving at least 40 games nine times.
"It's unprecedented, isn't it?" Righetti said. "He's got to be the number one calming influence in baseball history. I know what it's like in New York, and he's done all this in an era where they had to win and there was a lot of pressure on everybody, and yet here was this one guy who would come out of center field in the ninth and calm everybody down."
Rivera elicited the opposite response at the All-Star game this July, when players from both sides stood and cheered as he warmed up alone in the eighth inning.
"It didn't matter if you were in the American League or the National League, played for the Red Sox or Yankees, the Dodgers or the Giants, it didn't matter," said Romo, who cheered from the bullpen. "If you were a fan of baseball, your hair stood up on your arms at that moment."
"To me he's the best there's been, and that's all you can say," Righetti said, shaking his head and laughing. "I just don't know why he's quitting."