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Kimbrel, Freeman, McCann soak up All-Star experience

Braves star closer Craig Kimbrel left the All-Star Game with a great memory: a signed jersey by all-time saves leader Mariano Rivera.

Braves star closer Craig Kimbrel left the All-Star Game with a great memory: a signed jersey by all-time saves leader Mariano Rivera.

ATLANTA — Freddie Freeman watched the National League's 3-0 loss in the All-Star game Tuesday night from the bench with a splint on his jammed left thumb. Craig Kimbrel gave up a run in the eighth inning — his first run allowed in three All-Star appearances. And the only duty Brian McCann got was catching Kimbrel's warm-up pitches.

But the All-Star experience in New York was not lost on three appreciative Braves.

The singular moment of the 2013 All-Star game belonged to retiring Yankees closer Mariano Rivera, and the Braves enjoyed it as much as anybody.

The American League All-Stars left the all-time saves leader alone on the field for his eighth inning introduction and warm-up. Rivera ran in to “Enter Sandman” and stood alone on the mound, taking a spin to tip his hat in every direction to the 45,186 fans, the largest ever crowd at Citi Field.

Applauding from the top step of the National League dugout was Kimbrel, who had pitched the top of the eighth but stayed on the dugout railing to watch Rivera pitch a scoreless bottom of the eighth.

“He's the best there is and the best there ever has been,” Kimbrel said.

The 43-year-old Rivera has 638 saves in 19 seasons. Kimbrel, 25, has 115 saves in just more than three full seasons. But many now look to Kimbrel as the best there will be in the majors after Rivera retires.

Kimbrel's had a record 16.7 strikeouts per nine innings last season and his .126 opponents' batting average was the lowest since 1900. Kimbrel topped 40 saves in each of his first two full seasons and he's four saves shy this season from joining John Smoltz as the only Braves pitcher with three 30-save seasons.

“The numbers he's putting up are gaudy,” McCann said. “He's definitely the guy everybody talks about around baseball that he's the best. I think he is. I think he's proven that. I think he's only going to get better and better.”

Kimbrel savored the chance to see Rivera pitch in person Tuesday night for the first time.

“It was pretty awesome,” he said.

And his most prized souvenir from his third All-Star trip was a Yankees jersey Rivera signed for him that said “Last to wear No. 42.”

Kimbrel can tell his grandkids someday that he pitched the eighth inning in the All-Star game ahead of Rivera, even if it didn't go quite as he'd hoped.

"Obviously, I want to go out there and do well and help the team but just having the chance to go out there was pretty amazing," Kimbrel said.

He appreciated the chance to pitch a full inning, after recording one out in his first All-Star trip and two outs in his second.

Kimbrel gave up two singles to lead off the eighth, when Royals' Salvador Perez bounced his first pitch up the first base line and Cleveland shortstop Jhonny Peralta singled softly to right field. Kimbrel got Torii Hunter to ground into a double play but then gave up a run-scoring double to Cleveland's Jason Kipnis.

Kimbrel had a little better luck in the afternoon clubhouse card game of “Pluck.” He and Freeman teamed up with to play against St. Louis Cardinals Adam Wainwright and Matt Carpenter.

“We smoked them,” Freeman said.

Freeman, who was soaking up his first All-Star experience, said Wainwright tried to get a little scouting report on him in the process.

“He's like, 'So, if you were a pitcher how would you get yourself out?’ ” Freeman said, and smiled at the re-telling. “Heaters away. So I could slap it the other way.”

Either that or so he could get a little extension.

In between hob-knobbing with All-Star teammates, Freeman spent his first All-Star trip in the training room, working through a regimen the Braves had mapped out for Nationals head trainer Lee Kuntz. After the game, Freeman said his thumb was feeling a lot better.

“I did treatment three times (Tuesday) and every time I could bend it farther and farther,” Freeman said. “It's getting looser and looser, so hopefully Friday I'll be able to go.”

Freeman is scheduled to see Braves hand specialist Dr. Gary Lourie today before heading with the team to Chicago for a weekend series against the White Sox. The Braves still might prefer Freeman take another day or two.

"I don't know if they're going to let me go right back into it or they want me to take a day and hit a little bit more because I haven't swung in five days,” Freeman said. “I'll just see what their game plan is but I'm shooting for Friday, so we'll see.”

McCann was playing in his seventh All-Star game in eight years but didn't see any action for the first time in that run. It didn't come as a surprise to McCann, though, who was added last-minute as a third catcher to replace Freeman.

“I knew coming in that you've got the two best catchers on the planet right now on this team,” said McCann, who was third in line behind Yadier Molina and Leesburg’s Buster Posey. “I knew my time was only probably going to come in extra innings (if it came at all) This is definitely an experience. It's an honor to put on this uniform and represent the National League and the Atlanta Braves."