The right fielder was moments removed from bunting in the winning run in the final inning to give Jackie Robinson RBI (Jersey City, N.J.) an 8-7 win over Bradenton (Fla.) on Sunday at Target Field, clinching the team's first Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities World Series championship.
"I'm at a loss for words," Rivera said, clutching his Most Valuable Player trophy after going 2-for-4 with two RBIs. "I just did what my coach told me to do, and that was a drag bunt. And when it went over the first baseman's head -- as soon as I saw that -- I knew we were champions."
As wild as the game was -- it featured five lead changes and 11 of the 15 runs came in the final two innings -- it was only appropriate that it would be decided on a squeeze play.
Jackie Robinson RBI entered the bottom of the seventh in a 7-5 deficit after Bradenton tallied four runs in the top of the inning to take the lead. And that came only after the Jersey City kids put together four runs of their own in the bottom of the sixth to take a 5-3 lead.
"When you're down, sometimes your team quits on you, but my team doesn't quit," Rivera said as his team erased two-run deficits in both the sixth and seventh innings. "We came back and fought hard and we got the 'W.'"
Walks issued to Jackie Robinson's Daniel Mirabel and Michael Doran were sandwiched around the club's first out in the seventh. Abraham Groomes lined a single to left to score Mirabel. An error on Michael Osorio's fly ball to right field by Bradenton's Tyler Winkelmeyer let Doran score the tying run.
Then Rivera came to the plate. And manager Ron Hayward knew exactly what he wanted to do, despite having an attempted squeeze play not work out in the first inning.
"I told my coaches at the beginning of the game when we had runners on third with one out and we didn't get the run in, 'If I get in that situation again, I'm squeezing,'" Hayward said.
This time it worked, further validating Hayward's penchant for small ball. His squad stole four bases on six attempts and bunted for two consecutive hits during the team's sixth-inning rally.
"Anywhere I coach, we're going to run, we're going to bunt," Hayward said. "We're going to do whatever we can. If it's in the books, we're going to do it. If it isn't in the books, we're going to do it. We're a creative team."
Bradenton seemingly nailed down the victory in the top of the seventh inning. It scored once on a bases-loaded walk before Hakeem Rhodes tagged a single to center to score two more.
But Hayward's club already showed its affinity for late-game drama in Saturday's playoffs. Jackie Robinson took a 2-1 win after scoring the go-ahead run in the sixth in a quarterfinal matchup against Chicago. It followed that by scoring three in the sixth and stomping out a late rally in the seventh in a 4-2 victory over Atlanta in the semifinals.
Jackie Robinson RBI also appeared an unlikely champion entering the playoffs after going 0-3 in round-robin play on Thursday and Friday.
"This is how we live," Hayward said. "We battle where we're from. We deal with dumb things. This isn't anything. I told them, 'This is fun, fellas.'
"I grew up where they grew up at, and it's hard. This isn't a challenge, this is a game. They just want to enjoy it as much as they can."
Rivera's heroics also came on the heels of a costly error he committed in the third. His mistake allowed a routine fly ball to drop, and Bradenton scored to take a 2-1 lead.
He couldn't have found any better way to redeem himself.
"I've been apart of RBI since I was 14 or 15," Hayward said. "I never experienced this as a child. To let these kids experience it, the relationships they build -- it was amazing. They're not going to forget this. They can't forget this.
"The kid, Rivera, who got the trophy -- now he has motivation to believe in himself."
Jordan Garretson is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.