Quintessential Mo-Ments No. 42: Exit Sandman
The final Sunday home game on Sept. 22 was set to be Mariano Rivera Day, and in the midst of a nearly hour-long ceremony, teammates and Yankees greats past and present were in the house as Rivera was bestowed many gifts; Mo was given a rocking chair, a Waterford crystal replica of his glove, and, courtesy of the opposing San Francisco Giants, a Kirk Hammett guitar signed by Giants great Willie Mays, and Metallica themselves were in the house to not only play “Enter Sandman” live, but also give said Sandman an autographed and customized speaker cabinet.
However, the Yankees also bestowed the ultimate honor on Rivera by officially retiring his jersey number and adding a plaque in Monument Park, forever memorializing the greatest relief pitcher of all-time.
So, you think it couldn’t get any better, right? Think again.
Four days later, in the final home game of the season – a game that, when the Yankees were eliminated from postseason contention the night before, truly became the final Yankee Stadium tilt – Rivera made his last appearance, and it’s one no one will ever forget.
Down 4-0 to Tampa Bay, with two on and one out in the eighth inning, Joe Girardi decided he’d seen enough of Dellin Betances and called on Rivera one last time. He came to the mound to a deafening ovation (as well as a standing ovation from the entire Rays dugout) and quickly got out of the jam – later saying that he was so emotional that he didn’t know how he did it – and was kept in for the ninth inning, allowed to trot out of the dugout (to another thunderous ovation) one last time.
The ninth was vintage Sandman, but with a twist; after Rivera got two quick outs, Joe Girardi sent Andy Pettitte and Derek Jeter out to the mound to take the ball from Mo and give him one last goodbye moment.
When that happened, there wasn’t a dry eye in the house, even on Mo himself; the greatest closer of all-time finally showed he was human, openly weeping while embracing Pettitte and Jeter before walking off into the sunset – a sunset accompanied by the soundtrack of a capacity crowd (and, once again, the entirety of the Rays roster) clapping and cheering a career well done.
After the game ended, Rivera gave himself one last souvenir, coming out to take some dirt from the mound – the same trophy he took with him when the old Yankee Stadium closed in 2008 – and, in his own words, “stand (at the mound) one last time, knowing I ain’t gonna be there no more.”
There were still three days left in the season, one more start for Pettitte that he could potentially save, and the thought of Rivera maybe getting to finally play center field still in play, but that moment was it for Rivera; he admitted during the final series in Houston that he had been pitching with soreness in his forearm for a while, and so, after he and Girardi decided that there would be no more saves for “The Sandman,” Mo was able to put his career to sleep on the highest of notes.
Thus ends the greatest bedtime story baseball has ever written, and the Yankees Universe – and indeed, the baseball world at large – will never be the same without Mariano Rivera.