Yankees fans get to enjoy Mo’s Stadium farewell
Who says there is no crying in baseball?
It would have been impossible for Mariano Rivera no matter how cool he is not to have shed tears when Derek Jeter and Andy Pettitte came to the mound in the ninth inning to make a pitching change removing the game’s greatest closer that Yankees managers rarely had to do over the past two decades.
Mo simply lost it as he hugged his two longtime teammates while a capacity Yankee Stadium crowd of 48,675 lit up the night with camera flashes and filled the air with thunderous cheers.
The choice of Jeter and Pettitte to do the manager’s bidding was a stroke of genius by Joe Girardi, who had trouble composing himself after the game in describing his emotions.
“I have been around Mariano since 1996 through a lot of good times,” Girardi said as he rubbed his bloodshot eyes. “As a player, he made my job fun. As a manager, he made my job easier. More importantly, he has made all our lives better the way he goes about his business with humility.”
I was watching Girardi closely when he came out of the dugout before the start of the ninth inning to talk to plate umpire Laz Diaz while Mark Reynolds came into the game to play third base and Eduardo Nunez moved over to shortstop after Brendan Ryan had been pinch-hit out of the game the prior half inning. Third base umpire Mike Winters, the crew chief, joined in the discussion, which struck me as odd considering the ordinariness of the player move.
Perhaps, I thought, Girardi was inserting Rivera into the batting order to get him a plate appearance in his Stadium farewell. Then I looked at the lineup and saw designated hitter Alfonso Soriano was the fourth batter due up in the bottom of the ninth, so there could be no guarantee that Mo would get the opportunity to swing a bat.
Girardi explained later that he asked Diaz if a player could be designated to make a pitching change. Then Joe realized that Jeter is on the 60-day disabled list, so just to play it safe he asked if two players could do it. Winters looked at Diaz, then back at Girardi and said, “Oh, go ahead.”
With that remark, another great moment in Yankees history was able to occur.
Rivera was so moved by the entire situation that even before Jeter and Pettitte came calling he had to duck into the trainer’s room between innings to get a grip on his emotions.
“I was bombarded with feelings I could not describe,” Rivera said. “Everything was hitting me in flashbacks as I tried to compose myself.”
The arrival of his teammates after Rivera got the first two outs in the ninth was not a surprise to him. It was not a save situation as the Yankees were trailing the Rays by 4-0, which would be the eventual final score. Besides, before Rivera took the mound Jeter said to him, “We’re coming out to get you.”
The trio on the mound in that poignant moment had all come up through the Yankees’ system together and reached the big club in 1995. Pettitte and Rivera found niches on the staff that year while Jeter, who came up for a brief period, made his impact the next season as the American League Rookie of the Year. Players in both dugouts stood and applauded along with the fans. If the Yankees had the lead and Mariano was trying for a save it would have been more fitting a finish for him in front of the home crowd but surely not a better scene could have been viewed considering the circumstances.
Just the night before, the Yankees had been eliminated from postseason play for only the second time in Rivera’s 19 seasons with the club. The game after elimination is usually a drab affair, but Mo for one last time gave his fans a special treat.