It is said that there are three little words that every woman wants to hear. It is said that there are three little words that professional athletes never want to hear, but last night Mariano Rivera heard them.
Long time teammates, friends, and brothers in arms, Andy Pettitte and Derek Jeter came out to the mound in the 9th inning of Thursday night's game with the Tampa Bay Rays to escort Mariano Rivera back to the dugout. It was a stroke of genius that occurred to manager Joe Girardi, a former teammate of all three players involved, in the 8th inning. He consulted with home plate ump Laz Diaz, who checked with crew chief MikeWinters, who in turn gave it the thumbs up. Pettitte and Jeter told Mo before the 9th started of what was to come, but it didn't lessen the impact at all.
Pettitte signaled for a right-hander and then Jeter said those three little words. "Time to go." That's all that Mariano needed to burst into tears, his head resting on Pettitte's shoulder while the tall Texan held him in a warm embrace and consoled him like you would any loved one. It continued when Rivera held on to Jeter before the three walked to the dugout.
Many of the fans in the stands joined in the tearfest and you can bet there were plenty of people at home doing the same. The crowd roared on endlessly, just as it did when Bob Sheppard's recorded voice announced Mariano's entrance into the game in the 8th. Just as it did when the bullpen door opened and Mariano stepped out and broke into that familiar jog as "Enter Sandman" played for the last time for an active player. The Rays' players stood atop their dugout in applause as well, fully appreciating the moment. (They also would not take the field in the bottom of the 9th until Andy Pettitte came out of the dugout in response to the fans chant of "An-dy Pett-itte".)
The roar didn't stop when Mariano emerged for a curtain call and when the game was over and #42 was the only player left in the dugout. Photographers clicked away as Rivera stared out on to the field with finality written all over his face. He then walked to the mound and kicked at the rubber one more time before he bent down and collected dirt just as he had when the old Yankee Stadium closed.
The game itself was meaningless; a 4-0 loss to the Rays in which Ivan Nova made his final start of the season. In a post-game press conference, the closer admitted that it wasn't so easy to pitch in the 81st home game of the season. He had left the dugout, something he never does, between innings to warm his arm up in the clubhouse. He sat on the bench for what seemed like an eternity until he went out to the mound to start the 9th inning.
His pitches didn't have quite the accuracy they usually do since his legs felt a bit jelly-like, but he still retired all four batters he faced. In doing so, he became the Major League's all-time leader in career ERA with a 2.209 mark, slightly ahead of Eddie Cicotte's 2.210. (Thanks to the YES Network's research king Jeff Quagliata for that remarkable factoid.)
And then it was over; the #42 jersey disappeared into the dugout and then the runway to the clubhouse for the last time. It's not likely you'll see him on the mound again, even if Andy Pettitte has a game to save when he makes his final career start Saturday in Houston. But there is a good chance you will see him in centerfield in one of the three games if Joe Girardi grants his wish.
Sunday's ceremony was fantastic, marvelous, etc., but Mariano's final Yankee Stadium game was transcendental.
What they were saying:
Rays pitcher David Price via Twitter: "Yes I did grab dirt from the mound tonight...a true role model...unreal what Mariano has done on/off field" #history
Andy Pettitte: "I didn't say anything at first, and I didn't expect for him to be quite so emotional.. He broke down and just gave me a bear hug and I just bear-hugged him back. He was really crying. He was weeping, and I could feel him crying on me."
Chris Stewart on Girardi's idea: "That’s Joe; it shows you the respect he has for the game, and for one of the best players to ever play it. To send those guys out there, that was a special moment. And to hear the crowd roar like that … we haven’t heard it too much this season, but you will never forget it."
Joe Girardi in describing the night: As good as it gets, this is as good as it gets."
Rays starter Alex Cobb: "I stopped thinking about the actual game I was pitching in and just the moment I was in. I never felt those emotions in a baseball stadium. It was the coolest thing I've ever been a part of to this day. I went out there after he pitched and all I was thinking about was that I was on the same mound that Mariano just took after all that happened. I probably should have been thinking about other things than that."
Mo Meets the media
Pettitte meets the media
Jeter discusses Mo's last inning