Yankees Postgame Notebook: Exit Sandman
For Thursday was the final farewell to Mariano Rivera, the last game at Yankee Stadium in the vaunted 19-year career of the greatest relief pitcher in Major League history -- and of course, he was perfect.
Coming in with two on and one out in the eighth, Rivera got an ovation that shook Yankee Stadium, with everyone in attendance -- including the entire Rays dugout -- clapping as the king took his throne one last time. Rivera got two quick outs to end the inning, and after another huge ovation, got two more in the ninth.
"After the eighth inning, I realized that I was coming out for the last time, and it was a totally different feeling," Rivera said. "I don't know how I got those two guys out; I was trying to take in the moment."
And when that moment was over, that is when Jimmy Dugan's epithet from A League of Their Own was proved false.
In a moment fitting of Hollywood, Joe Girardi sent Andy Pettitte and Derek Jeter to the mound to make a pitching change, getting Rivera one last sendoff for the ages -- and as he hugged his fellow Core Four brothers, Mo finally showed he was human, breaking down in tears as 48,675 fans gave him the farewell of a lifetime.
"Definitely (the most emotional I've ever been)," Mo said. "I remember a moment in 2003 (after Game 7 of the ALCS), but never like this. Even in 2003, that was after the game, and I was in total control of that myself, but during the game, especially during the ninth inning, the first few pitches I couldn't control myself. I was bombarded with emotions and feelings, knowing that I would never do this again and this was the last time, period. I've never felt like that before."
It was a moment Girardi said was born out of pure curiosity, but one that both Pettitte and Rivera said meant the world to them.
"I started thinking about it in the eighth inning that I never saw a player pulled by another player, so I had to ask," Girardi said. "I talked to Laz (Diaz) before the ninth inning, and I just asked and he said I think it's ok, let me talk to Mike (Winters, the crew chief), and he did. I asked if I could send two and he said 'yeah, go ahead,' and I really appreciate that because I think it made the moment more special for Mo. Two guys that have been with him a long time and they've been through a lot together, I think it made the moment more special."
"It was a great feeling when they came out," Rivera said. "Derek and Andy told me they were going to pull me out, so I said okay. After the eighth inning, I realized that I was coming out for the last time, and it was a totally different feeling."
"I know that there were years here early in my career where when we had it clinched up, Joe (Torre) would let us be the pitching coaches and stuff like that, but I don't think I ever went out to the mound, so this is definitely the first time, but guys said I looked pretty efficient when I called for the right-hander," Pettitte joked. "I felt at first when Joe (Girardi) said he wanted us to do it that it wasn't a good idea, but it was just so cool and a great moment."
So how does that moment rank for Girardi?
"As good as it gets. It's probably as special as a going out for any player as I've seen," Girardi said. "Paul O'Neill was the other that was pretty amazing; I wasn't here, but I heard it through the TV. But Mo -- one thing about our fans is that they understand what Mo has meant to this organization. It's not like 'oh, he's great,' they understand what he's meant to this organization and the championships and all the tutoring he has done…that's as good as it gets."
By the time it was over, the game seemed almost inconsequential, but someone had to get the final out. The answer to that trivia question ended up being Matt Daley, who came in and struck out Ben Zobrist in what he said was the most pumped-up 1/3 inning in his life.
"In the bottom of the ninth, I went up to Mo as he was sitting in the dugout taking it all in, and I told him 'I know you've had a lot of amazing experiences on the baseball field, but I just want you to know that is the coolest moment I've ever had, so thank you very much for that'," Daley said. "It was the most pumped up I've ever been…I had tons of adrenaline, and it was special, special moment."
And there was one more moment, as before that bottom of the ninth, the fans continued chanting Pettitte's name -- and not even the Rays players would come out on the field until the southpaw popped out of the dugout and gave one last curtain call.
"I think that was great too. Andy deserves it; you're talking about two of the greatest Yankees that have ever put the uniform on going out in the same year," Girardi said. "I was glad to see that, and I give Tampa a lot of credit for the class they showed, because they wouldn't take the field until Andy went out. I applaud Joe (Maddon), his coaches and his players for that."
"It was cool for me, and I had a nice moment again tonight for me with the crowd chanting my name," Pettitte said. "I wasn't gonna go out there because I felt I had already done my stuff here, but the guys on the bench were saying that I had to go out there…man, it was just great. I don't need anything else, I just feel so fortunate to have been able to be part of the last few days here. It's been incredible."
Once the final out had been recorded, though, there was one last moment: like he did in 2008 when the old Yankee Stadium closed, Rivera gathered some dirt from the mound, perhaps the final souvenir in a season full of them.
"I wanted to get some dirt, and stay there for the last time, knowing that I'm not going to be there anymore," Rivera said. "Maybe I'll get to throw out the first pitch one day, but in terms of competing, that would be my last time, and all the times I was there were special to me."
And so, the Yankees' home slate is done, with only three games in Houston -- one of which will be Andy Pettitte's farewell -- remaining. Then, it's officially Exit Sandman, and we'll leave the last word to the man whose name will be etched in baseball lore for eternity.
"It has been happening the whole year, but seeing the guys again, and still, after the game being there for me, it has no price, and I appreciate that. It's humbling to me, and to be able to finish the way the Lord allowed me to finish was spectacular. I can't ask for more."