Derek Jeter ready to be the 'last man standing' among the Core Four?
Jeter was technically the third of the quartet to make his Major League debut, first suiting up six days after Mariano Rivera's first appearance and exactly one month after Andy Pettitte's -- but come 2014, he'll be the only one left in a Yankees uniform.
We've known the end of this era was coming eventually; after all, Pettitte retired once before after 2010, Posada called it quits in January 2012 and well before Andy announced this would be his second swan song, Sunday was set to be the culmination of a year-long farewell tour for Rivera.
But, as he stood on the field for Rivera's retirement celebration on Sunday, and later watched as Pettitte made what could be his final start ever at Yankee Stadium, it finally hit The Captain that this is the beginning of the end of a four-man dynasty.
"Today I realized it a little bit; before today no, because our team is still trying to win games, but today, when you're standing out there for ceremonies and ovations for Andy, that's when you realize it," Jeter said after Sunday's festivities. "I'm going to miss them a lot. These guys are like brothers to me and we've been through quite a bit together, almost anything you could experience on the field. In my whole professional career, I've been playing with at least one of them."
All four Core Four members debuted sometime in 1995, and although Posada went back to Triple-A for most of the season when the other three became lineup staples in 1996, the quartet has been together for two decades almost without fail.
Next year, however, it's a one-man show, and even though Posada was a late-sticker and Pettitte left twice -- for a three-year stint in Houston and then a one-year retirement -- Jeter admitted what everyone is already thinking: it just won't be the same without them.
"It will still be different. Jorge went out a couple years ago, but the other two were still here; Mo was hurt most of last year, but Andy was still here," The Captain said. "This will be the first time all three of them are gone, so yeah, it will be a little different, but I can't really tell you how just yet."
Posada came back Sunday, as did Bernie Williams, Paul O'Neill and numerous other ex-Yankees who called the "Mo years" home, all to pay homage to "The Sandman" one last time.
"I thought it was great; it was wonderful, emotional and it was well-deserved," Jeter said of the ceremonies honoring Mariano Rivera. "I'm glad they had an opportunity to be here. Mo deserves all of that for everything he's meant to this organization and baseball as a whole, and I think they did a great job of recognizing one of the most outstanding players to ever play."
But, in the midst of that homage and recognition came a late surprise: the reality of Pettitte's final start at Yankee Stadium, a thought made official when the southpaw announced Friday that he was hanging it up once again at season's end.
Needless to say, Jeter couldn't have been any happier that on Rivera's special day, the bonus attraction was perhaps a 73rd pairing of the most prolific starter-reliever combo in MLB history.
"You don't want to say Andy sort of got lost in everything here, but with him announcing his retirement just a few days ago…this was planned for Mo, and I thought it was special that Andy got to pitch," Jeter said. "I thought he did a great job."
Unfortunately, the lingering effects of last October's broken ankle left Jeter unable to play on Sunday - a fate he said was "frustrating, (because) you want to help but you can't play, so it's very disappointing" -- and even though both men pitched well, the Yankees couldn't pull out a victory on Sunday.
As you'd expect, that fact and its ramifications were not lost on Jeter, who, despite the fact that he won't see the field, still wants nothing more than to experience one last October with his brothers.
"All games are important at this point. It was a wonderful day, but we have to win games," he said. "Unfortunately this was a big one for us, but after tomorrow's day off we have to come out and win every game, that's the bottom line."
With the Yankees sitting 4.5 games out of a Wild Card berth with only six left to play, it's very possible that even if they do win out, this could be the final week the "Core Four" has together.
As Jeter acknowledged, the group hasn't truly been "whole" for the last couple years, but until today, at least in The Captain's mind, there was always one more day, one more chance that someone would un-retire or return from injury to give the group another day in the sun.
After Sunday, after the send-off that Rivera and Pettitte got, that hope finally began to slip away, replaced by the finality that very soon, the duo will be off to the proverbial "Never Never Land."
"Those two guys are like brothers to me, and it's emotional at times, knowing that I'm not playing anymore this year so I've played my last game with those two guys," Jeter said. "I'll definitely miss them."
Come 2014, the encore for the Core Four's 20-year run on the grandest stage of all will officially be a one-man show. But for Yankees fans, perhaps the best consolation is a different lyric from the band that played Rivera out onto the Yankee Stadium field one last time on Sunday.
"Ash to ash, dust to dust, fade to black…but The Memory Remains."