I should make a list of all the days I don’t want to write about, but they easily include things like retirements, major game losses, and final farewells. I’m not a reporter, so I don’t have my objectivity to hide behind. But my opinions and emotions aren’t always easily expressed on such a blog. I have to admit that I wasn’t looking forward to this day for a lot of personal reasons, but the main one was I just didn’t want this “era of good feelings” (so to speak) to end.
Declaring today “Mariano Rivera Day” was like asking for every living Yankee great to descend on Yankee Stadium. And boy, did they ever. Former Yankees Hideki Matsui, Bernie Williams, Tino Martinez, Paul O’Neill, Jeff Nelson, David Cone, John Wetteland, and Jorge Posada were on hand to say their public farewells. Also present were former Yankees manager Joe Torre, former trainer Gene Monahan, and former GM Gene Monahan. All these amazing men were announced on the field prior to the game today. And then Robinson Cano escorted Jackie Robinson’s widow Rachel and daughter Sharon onto the field to continue to honor Robinson’s impact and legacy as carried on by and through Rivera’s career and uniform number, which they retired in Monument Park just before the ceremony began. It was Derek Jeter who was privileged to escort Rivera’s wife Clara and the Riveras’ three sons Mariano, Jafet, and Jaziel.
There was a wonderful video montage of memories and thank you’s from Rivera’s teammates. And in between innings, the Yankees scoreboard played recorded messages from former teammates like Nick Swisher, Yankee rivals like David Ortiz and Dustin Pedroia, and other sports figures like NFL players Tom Brady and Mark Sanchez. It really seemed like everyone came out to say good-bye.
In that spirit, in what was probably the worst kept secret in baseball history, the Yankees had Metallica, in town for a concert last night, in center field, playing the famous “Enter Sandman” as Rivera jogged in from the outfield to the waiting crowd on the infield grass. The Giants presented Rivera with a watercolor painting of an appearance in San Francisco and a Willie Mays autographed guitar, specially co-designed by Metallica. And to compliment that, Metallica presented Rivera a decked-out speaker cabinet.
Then it was the Yankees turn to present their gifts — a $100,000 check to the Mariano Rivera Foundation, a replica of his retired Monument Park number, and a Waterford crystal statue of his exact glove directly from the Steinbrenner family. And Derek Jeter and Joe Girardi carried out a specially crafted baseball bat rocking chair, commissioned by the entire team; Rivera promptly gave it a go right on the infield. Rivera’s assumed man cave is almost now complete with what can only be described as the most eclectic version of Number 42 memorabilia that you can possibly imagine. But I’m guessing he wouldn’t change a thing.
But what really made the event worth the entire day was when Rivera himself took a microphone and began his formal farewell to the crowd. He began, as a man of faith and family would, by thanking God and publicly praising his wife, sons, and parents. He also thanked his teammates old and new as his extended family and the Robinson family for the privilege of continuing Jackie’s legacy. In addition to thanking the fans in the stadium and those all over the world, he singled out those in his native Panama, who supported him and his dream of a career in baseball since he was a poor kid playing with a cardboard mitt, with a special moment in Spanish. And then he uttered the words that echo in every ball park across the globe from sandlots to professional stadiums, “Play Ball!”
And let us not forget that it was also a little bit of Andy Pettitte Day, who pitched 7 innings (and one batter in the 8th) like vintage Andy Pettitte — sharp, tight, consistent. He retired 16 of the first 17 batters he faced (with one walk) in what was looking like a no-hitter for a while, right up until the 6th inning. A solo home run broke that no-hitting bid. And it was a lead-off double in the 8th (only the second hit he allowed) that had him pulled after his 104 pitch outing. Seriously, anyone who tries to say that Pettitte did anything but be amazing today will have to take it up with about 50,000 Yankee fans who gave what will probably be their last standing ovation as Pettitte slowly walked that long walk to the dugout on what would be a crushing loss to him and his team. (Is it ironic that a “crushing loss” in September means a one-run game?)
David Robertson took the mound to grab one out before allowing an RBI double so that the Giants jumped to a 2-1 lead (That one run from the Yankees was courtesy of the 3rd inning solo home run into the Giants’ bullpen from Mark Reynolds). And maybe as courtesy to the fans on today, Girardi opted to go to Rivera for 5 outs, which he did with his usual panache.
The Yankees, stuck with that sole run from early in the game, made every effort in the bottom of the 8th to do something spectacular. Rodriguez singles and is replaced by pinch-runner Almonte, probably due to Rodriguez’s recent string of leg issues and the need for a faster runner around the bases. Cano doubles, moving Almonte to 3rd. Soriano’s at-bat turned into a fielder’s choice with Almonte getting tagged out at home trying to score. And it was on Nunez’s single that Cano tried to tie up the game but was brutally tagged out at home as well. Cano seemed to be okay, limping slightly, but this late in the season, there’s no more room on the DL short of “broken” or worse.
The Yankees’ offense just didn’t spark today after a 49 minute delay at the beginning with all the ceremony, and that’s part of why I didn’t want to write today’s story. It’s bittersweet in so many ways, and I’m just not okay with that.