He looked toward the dugout and a smile broke out onto his face. His brothers were coming to get him.
Grinning, Andy Pettitte and Derek Jeter were making the slow walk out to the mound. Pettitte signaled for a new pitcher then put out his hand to take the ball. The smile on Mariano Rivera‘s face slowly disappeared. It was time for him to leave, but he didn’t want to just yet.
The two teammates embraced. Mo began to cry. All 48,675 in attendance began to cry. The moment was so powerful and perfect that it didn’t matter the Yankees were losing 4-0. The lost season was an afterthought. Rivera was shaking in Pettitte’s arms, overcome with emotion and feelings that had built up over his illustrious 19-year career. He was letting it all out.
Derek stood there with a boyish smile on his face, waiting for his turn to hug his friend as he applauded. There was a look between Pettitte and Jeter that I won’t soon forget. Before Jeter embraced Mo he said in typical Jeter-fashion: “time to go.”
Mo walked off the mound, his cap a little crooked, wiping tears from his eyes. He waved toward the Rays, who had come out of the dugout for a standing ovation. Then he stopped right next to the painted white “42” on the first-base line, which had faded a little since Sunday. He acknowledged the fans. “MARI-ANO!” chants grew louder.
Rivera and Joe Girardihugged just outside of the dugout and when they let go, Girardi’s face said it all – he was weeping. Rivera disappeared into the dugout and was greeted by each one of his teammates, but the crowd wasn’t going to let him go that easy.
Rivera came back out, tipped his cap one more time, raised his arms and took a deep breath. It was finally happening. On Sunday, we were saying thanks. Last night, we were saying goodbye. He descended the steps, grabbed a towel, cleared his nose and wiped his face. He sat down, and stared out to the field.
It was over. And it was perfect.
Forget about Mariano’s pitching performance for a second. It was expected; It was always expected. Four batters faced, four batters retired – 13 pitches thrown. It was that moment on the mound that made the sendoff special. It was the most iconic moment at the new Yankee Stadium for sure, and one of the most iconic moments in baseball history. Three teammates, who had been through so many big moments, who had come up together as kids were old men standing together – saying goodbye.
Here was a guy who, for his whole career, was as cool as a cucumber on the mound. But last night, he was crying like a baby in the middle of Yankee Stadium in front of nearly 50,000 people. Rivera has saved 83 games for Pettitte (72 in the regular season), the most for any duo in baseball history. He’s also been on the field for five World Championships, saving each game with Derek Jeter at shortstop. But last night, it was Rivera who needed the save.
“They both came to get me out, and I was thankful they came out… I needed them there, and they were there.”
We needed Mo, and he was always there. Now he’s gone, but he’ll forever stay in our memories.