Posted September 27, 2013

On a night filled with cheers and tears, Mariano Rivera says one last goodbye to Bronx

Mariano Rivera, New York Yankees

Mariano Rivera, Yankees

Mariano Rivera came back out after the game to take some of the dirt from the mound as a keepsake. (Porter Binks/SI)

NEW YORK – His was the Voice of the Yankees, Bob Sheppard’s grand baritone, whose perfect diction and harmonic intonation were the narrative embodiment of old Yankee Stadium, elevating every moment to the highest of theater.

A recording of the late Sheppard’s introduction of “No. 42, Mariano Rivera, No. 42” greeted the opening of the bullpen door in the top of the eighth inning of a September afterthought, the first home game of Rivera’s 19-year career in which the Yankees had already been eliminated. Rivera’s sendoff didn’t need a boost of gravitas, but it didn’t hurt in a game New York trailed 4-0, so Sheppard’s surprise salutation only furthered the frenzy.

From there, Metallica took its cue, and “Enter Sandman” blared in the Bronx for the final time, and Rivera, gripping his glove with his right hand, jogged on in from the bullpen to thunderous cheers and rapid-fire flashbulbs that gave the stands a strobe-like feel, the fans’ final chance to document the greatest relief pitcher of all-time in action.

Echoing the similar moment across town at Citi Field for the All-Star Game, even the opposing Rays took a moment away from their wild-card pursuit to exit the dugout and applaud, a tribute to which Rivera dutifully replied with a tip of the cap.

“It was amazing,” he said later. “It was a great night.”

There were, however, glimpses of baseball as usual. Manager Joe Girardi’s parting words to Rivera on the mound were, “first and second, one out,” a reminder of the mess his reliever was inheriting. Later, after completing his warmup tosses, Rivera paused for a moment behind the rubber and stared at the baseball before returning to the present and gesturing toward Robinson Cano, signaling whom he’d be throwing to at second base in case of a comebacker.

JAFFE: Rivera’s top nine moments at Yankee Stadium 

No happenstance was more familiar than Rivera’s results — he retired all four batters he faced. So many of his previous 1423 1/3 regular and post-season innings were similarly dominant and, though he couldn’t add to his league record 652 saves on this night, he cut through Tampa Bay’s lineup as swiftly as his fastball cut through the air.

The venerable Rivera, a son of the ‘60s born to a Panamanian fisherman, may have lost a few ticks of velocity but not his signature cutter, the pitch he said appeared one day in a game of catch back in ’97 and which he rode to 13 All-Star appearances. Rivera has said he’s retiring because it is the time and that he has given everything he has, up to and including surpassing his age (43) with saves (44) and prompting his even older manager (48) to miss donning his gear and crouching behind home plate.

“To catch someone that was so dominant, I can’t tell you how fun that is for a catcher,” Girardi said. “I don’t really miss catching a lot, but I do miss catching him.”

CORCORAN: 42 Things you need to know about Mariano Rivera 

Girardi had two stints of easy calls: as a catcher, he needed one finger to summon the cutter and, as a manager, he needed one dial of the bullpen phone to preserve a victory.

“As a player, it was fun,” Girardi said. “As a manager, it was easy.”

Despite the carnage Rivera wrought on opponents’ bats (so often broken) and batting averages (so often lowered), he engendered respect — evident in both Tampa Bay’s applause on Thursday and the barrage of gifts all season — because, Rays manager Joe Maddon said, Rivera showed respect in return.

“The way he goes about his business is very understated,” Maddon said. “He just goes out there and shoves it on you in a very polite way.”

Between the eighth and ninth innings, Rivera retreated down the dugout tunnel, rather than remain on the bench, partly to keep his arm warm and partly to regain his composure, as flashbacks of his career ran through his mind. After he jogged back to the mound, past his own No. 42 painted into foul territory, he struggled to command his pitches for the first two outs of the ninth.

“I don’t know how I got those two last outs,” Rivera said. “I was bombarded with emotions and feelings. I could have just cried.”

VERDUCCI: Oral history of Mariano Rivera 

The tears came soon thereafter. Girardi delegated his pitching change to a pair of tenured veterans, Andy Pettitte and Derek Jeter, who walked out to retrieve Rivera for retirement. As they reached the mound, Rivera dissolved into tears on Pettitte’s shoulder, where he stayed buried for half a minute, longtime teammates who quite literally grew up together through the ranks of this baseball organization. Rivera then spent time on Jeter’s shoulder before the Captain told him, “Time to go.”

“I’m glad Joe let us be a part of it,” Jeter said, “because we’ve been like brothers for 20 years.”

Said Rivera, “I needed them there, and they were there.”

The trivia-question battery of Matt Daley (pitcher) and J.R. Murphy (catcher) mopped up the inning’s final out, and after the Yankees went in order in the bottom half of the inning, the game was over and so too was Rivera’s career in pinstripes. He may pitch a final time in the final series in Houston, though doing so in his road grays against a long-ago eliminated club could not stand to improve upon the tribute Rivera received on this night.

Perhaps he recognized that as he sat by his lonesome at the end of the dugout bench, clutching his cap and looking longingly out toward the field, like the child who doesn’t want to go home. Eventually Rivera returned to the field and ascended the mound, digging his right foot alongside the rubber once again, looking almost like he wanted to throw another pitch.

Instead, Rivera used his cleats to loosen the ground for a keepsake. He then walked off the mound a final time, clutching a bit of clay and the last of his career.

23 comments
ValerieLoera
ValerieLoera

A class act!! What a great career. Watching this gave me chills. This was truly one of the great moments in baseball history. I agree with the comment that he should have been made the face if baseball for many years. A great player and an even better human being. There will never be another one like Rivera!

RicoSantiago
RicoSantiago

I don't think baseball did a great job of promoting this man throughout his career.  He could have been and should have been the face of baseball for all these years.  A class act, an ambassador to the game, a role model, a legend, and hero to many.  I loved the send off by the yanks, but MLB did a lackluster job of even promoting the game.  Instead I was sucked in watching a meaningless NFL game between two teams I do not care about (49ers vs Rams).  That is because the NFL can sell us their athletes working out, aka NFL combine.  

Mariano could have been the face of this sport throughout all the steroid era unfortunately for many kids out there he was never promoted as such through the entirety of his career.  With that said, I tip my hat off to the Yanks for honoring a true legend and someone who did it better than had EVER been before.  Not only as a Central American am I proud, but as an American and as a Human being we should be proud we witnessed greatness and just an overall good dude.,  The rarest of gems.  His name Mariano Rivera!!! 

iclasticons
iclasticons

What a send-off for a great pitcher and a person whom all could and should emulate. Sending Jeter and Pettitte to the mound for the last changeover was perfect. Kudos to the Yankees and the Rays for showing such class and humanity on a sad but wonderful occasion. Mariano is truly the GOAT reliever and sets the standard for how an athlete or anyone else should behave.

krotz
krotz

Lifelong Red Sox fan here, and Mo is definitely a class act!  I wish him a long and enjoyable retirement! Sorry that he didn't get to retire after a post-season, but he has led plenty of them!  

Aggie81
Aggie81

For the most part, I don't ever watch the MLB until the month of September when the pennant races start, although I might catch a headline during the season.  This season, there was the Rivera tour that came to a city near you.  It was a GREAT tribute to a player whom all all purposes played the game with HONOR, RESPECT, and BY THE RULES.  

I wish all up and coming baseball players and prospects from the little leagues up to the majors will look at Rivera's career and see that you can be SUCCESSFUL by following the rules. 

He will be missed...

James C
James C

I have never been a fan of the Yanks, but a true baseball fan has to respect the level of play Mariano Rivera played with over his entire career. 

He is still going out near the top of the game, with his 44 saves putting him 4th in MLB as of today. When you can still do the job as well as you did at at age 30, when you are 43 you are doing something right and deserve the respect of baseball fans everywhere. 


Shane H
Shane H

Being a Jays fan I absolutely hate the Yankees, but Rivera was a class act and the best closer to ever play the game. Great career.

golferx
golferx

enough already.if he played anywhere but NY, never would have gotten this much attention.

NoQNoSuperBowl
NoQNoSuperBowl

The best there is, the best there was and the best there ever will be.

bobfree
bobfree

Red sox fan for 65 years but never saw a player with more talent and class than Manny.

JimKirkwood1
JimKirkwood1

Great article. Great person. Great story.

There aren't many purely joyful careers these days where the hero is a good human being, never touched by scandal and respected by his opponents.

Have a great ride into the sunset, Mario!!

John310
John310

As a Red Sox fan, I always hated when Mo came in even though our guts got to him their fair share. However, I have ALWAYS respected the way he played the game and his off field character. There will never be another like him and I truly wish this true class act the best. I believe that if anyone should ever be a unanimous vote for HOF it should be him the ways he embodied sportsmanship and true character. He is an athlete and a person that it would not bother me for my kids to lookup to and strive to be like. thanks for the (sometimes not so good) memories Mo!!

Jerkzilla
Jerkzilla

Mariano was so far and away better than anyone else, for so many years, at the loneliest position in sports, and on its biggest stage, it is amazing.  George Steinbrenner passing away signified the team would be run differently.  Mariano retiring signifies the team will being playing baseball differently.  The game is 9 innings again in the Bronx.

O
O

@golferx  

Players like Chipper Jones, Kirby Puckett and  Tony Gwinn received grand send offs.  Do you believe that Mariano Rivera is not in their league of player?

iclasticons
iclasticons

Stick to bogey golf. Maybe you can find a soul in a sand trap.

krotz
krotz

@golferx I agree with @Weeks .... if he played anywhere else, he'd not have been under so much pressure!  He was successful in a place where they crucify players who choke now and again .... he played with class, followed the rules, and was successful.  I wish there were far more Rivera's out there....


Weeks
Weeks

@golferx He deserves all the attention BECAUSE he played so well for so long in New York. That damn place is a pressure cooker even without the postseason drama.

iclasticons
iclasticons

Seems like a little jealousy at work.