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Exit Sandman: A Bittersweet Bronx Goodbye for Mariano Rivera

In Sports on September 27, 2013 at 1:19 am

Mariano Rivera's Last Game at Yankee Stadium

The whirlwind farewell tour for Yankees’ closer, Mariano Rivera, certainly had to have its emotional moments, but nothing, including his retirement ceremony at Yankee Stadium, could have compared to his final moments in front of a near capacity crowd in the Bronx.  If this was Hollywood, Rivera would have entered game 7 of the World Series in the bottom of the 9th inning of a one-run game, retire the side, and the credits would roll over the still shot of Mo holding the championship trophy over his head.  However, no Hollywood ending could possibly measure up to the reality of the Bronx ending…raw, bittersweet and emotional. Not since Lou Gehrig’s “luckiest man on the face of the earth” speech have so many tears flowed inside of a baseball stadium.

As Metallica’s “Enter Sandman” blared through the crisp fall air of Yankee Stadium for Rivera’s final appearance as an active player, the legendary closer made his way to the mound as he has done so many times before.  Trailing 4-0 in the 8th inning of a relatively meaningless game, there was no pressure to perform, and no chance to earn one final save.  But it didn’t matter.  Mo’s last appearance will be remembered for many, many years to come by those who experienced it at the stadium or on TV.  As time passes, no one will remember that the Yankees lost to the division rival Tampa Bay Rays, although they may remember the tremendous class that the visiting team displayed, and the deference that they paid to one of the most transcendent players to ever play the game.

Rivera earned this night, not just because of his achievements, but also because of the way that he carried himself both on and off the field.  Mo arguably represents everything that is great about sports better than any other professional athlete in history.  However, no argument can be made about Rivera being the greatest closer in Major League Baseball history.  He is, quite simply, the best in the world at what he does, and his departure from the game will leave a void that extends way beyond the Yankees organization and their diehard fanbase.  The game of baseball will go on, as it always does, but it will never be the same without Rivera.

In his final game, Rivera faced four batters.  He didn’t blow his trademark cut fastball by any of the batters that he faced for a strikeout.  In fact, each batter made solid contact, but none reached base, largely due to Mo’s stellar fielding abilities, which haven’t diminished at all despite being the oldest player in the league.  Although he admittedly struggled to maintain his composure in the face of overwhelming emotions, Rivera retired each batter, just as he has done time and time again over the past two decades.

With two outs in the 9th inning, Joe Girardi got the approval to send Andy Pettite and Derek Jeter out to the mound to relieve their longtime teammate.  The three remaining members of the “Core Four” stood on the mound together for one last time in front of the home crowd.  Known for his unwavering composure, Rivera surprised himself as he broke down in the arms of Pettite when the reality of the moment set in.  After a long embrace, Jeter shared a similar moment with Rivera.  All the while, the members of the Rays all stood patiently outside of their dugout, and cheered along with the home crowd.  It didn’t matter that they were still fighting for their playoff lives.  This pivotal moment in baseball history was bigger than one game, regardless of its playoff implications.

While the game lacked suspense, Rivera’s unorthodox exit left everyone in the stands and the viewing audience wondering if he would return to the mound to face one last batter.  He wouldn’t, but it didn’t matter.  The last out of the inning was almost an afterthought, and Rivera had nothing left to prove.  A poetic ending to his illustrious career at Yankee Stadium was achieved as his performance inched him into first place as the pitcher with the lowest career ERA in Major League Baseball history.

Ideally, Rivera’s final innings would have occurred in the playoffs, but there is something to be said for having the last MLB player to ever don the number 42 end his career with 42 post season saves.

When it was all said and done, Rivera returned to the Yankee Stadium mound one last time after sitting alone in the dugout basking in the moment, perhaps purposely prolonging it so as to not have to say goodbye.  He dug his cleats in as if he was going to pitch, and then dropped to his knees as gathered a handful of loose dirt in his hands, taking a piece of the place that he has called home for nearly two decades.  It was a poignant moment that will always be remembered by those who watched it happen in real time, and for Rivera, it was undoubtedly a bittersweet Bronx goodbye.

 

 

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