Despite losing game, night will go down in Yankee lore
It was the top of the 8th; the Yankees were down 4-0 in a game that meant very little to them, as they were eliminated from playoff contention the day before.
However, there was a buzz in the air. Yankee Stadium had that special electric atmosphere that only close playoff games can usually produce. And then the moment came, the opening of “Enter Sandman” began to blast over the Stadium speakers, and all 49,000 fans stood up in a roaring applause because they knew what was going to happen.
Mariano Rivera was coming in for his last appearance in the Bronx.
With the crowd going wild, number 42 jogged into the infield from the bullpen for the last time. This legendary player conducted his warm up pitches with the same grace and precision that he had done the previous 19 years, even with everyone in the crowd chanting “Mariano”.
Rivera mowed down two batters to end the inning, but by hearing the crowd noise, the common listener would have thought that he had just closed out the game clinching win for a trip to the World Series.
There were lights flashing all over the Stadium when Rivera took the mound for one last time the following inning. The entire ballpark knew that this was it. This would be the last time a Yankee legend would be playing before their eyes. Everyone wanted to capture this moment, everyone wanted proof that they were there when a Yankee great had his last moment in Pinstripes.
With two outs recorded, the Bronx Bombers decided it was time for a pitching change – or more accurately, a time for Rivera to have his last moments of glory. However, because this was a special trip to the mound, it required special people to do it. Instead of Manager Joe Girardi taking the ball from Rivera, it was his longtime friends and teammates, Derek Jeter and Andy Pettitte.
During his whole goodbye tour, nothing made Mariano Rivera cry. He was definitely appreciative throughout the year, there is no question about that, but he never shed tears over the fact that all the festivities meant that his career was over. Meeting with other teams, getting gifts from the league, winning the All-Star game MVP, having his number retired by the Yankees, none of it made him cry. He always kept his composure.
But in that moment, with three members of the Core Four on the mound, Rivera embraced Pettitte in a hug and the tears came running down. All the emotions from the previous months finally spilt out of Rivera. The reality that he would never competitively pitch from a mound again hit him, and it caused one of the most emotional scenes that the sports world will ever see.
Rivera waved his arms in the air to the crowd as he made his way to the dugout, and continued to embrace his teammates once he made it to the steps. The Yankees fans, however, were not satisfied. They wanted to see Rivera one last time, they wanted him to have a curtain call that will never be forgotten by those in attendance.
Rivera came back out of the dugout, and the Stadium erupted into cheers and chants of “Mariano”. Play had virtually stopped. The game against the Tampa Bay Rays literally took a back seat to the impromptu ceremony that was taking place in foul territory near first base. Minutes went by as Rivera tipped his cap and continued to wave to the crowd, in disbelief the whole time at the affection he was being shown.
At the end of the night, the score and the result of the game did not matter. In an extremely rare moment, an athlete was bigger than the game. Rivera stood alone on the field, showered with love and respect by the fans, his teammates, and the Tampa Bay players.
Rivera deserves all of the ceremonies and curtain calls that he received this season. Beyond his stats, which are astounding, it was the way he carried himself that made him so embraced by baseball. He won with grace, and lost with grace. He dominated his position like no one else in history has, yet you would never know it by talking to him in the clubhouse. He had the same burning desire to compete and win as a hungry minor league call-up would have.
Rivera’s name will now be enshrined with other Yankee immortals such as Ruth, Gehrig, DiMaggio, and Mantle. The hometown fans that watched him throw his last pitches tonight were truly witnessing history and will forever be able to tell people that they were there when Rivera stopped off the mound for the last time in the Bronx.
His farewell was emotional, pure, and full of pomp and circumstance. It was the perfect exit for the Sandman.