Tom Hanks’s Jimmy Dugan character in A League of Their Own famously said “there’s no crying in baseball.”
He should have been at Yankee Stadium on Thursday night.
Four days after the Yankees held Mariano Rivera Day on a sun-splashed Sunday, the final Bronx goodbye to MLB’s all-time saves leader -- the GOAT of closers -- came on a cool, autumn evening. With the Yankees eliminated the night before –- New York missed the postseason for just the second time in 19 years – it marked the first meaningless home game on the schedule at the (two) Stadium since 1993. Tell that to the almost 49,000 who gathered to bid farewell to the great Rivera.
On Sunday, it was all about pomp and circumstance (channeling Sparky Lyle’s theme song). The Yankees gave Jackie Robinson his own plaque of honor as Rivera’s 42 -- the last Major Leaguer to sport that number -- was officially retired in pinstripe blue in Monument Park. Metallica, fresh off a Saturday night performance at Harlem’s famed Apollo Theater, played "Enter Sandman" (not as loudly as many in the upper deck would have liked) from a small stage in centerfield as Mo strode in from the bullpen.
His 1990s dynasty teammates – Jorge Posada, Paul O’Neil, Tino Martinez, Jeff Nelson, John Wetteland, David Cone and Bernie Williams (the fifth member of the Core Four, he’s a charter figure of the High Five, no Pete Best he) – awaited on assembled lawn chairs. Their skipper, Joe Torre, was there, too. Derek Jeter escorted Rachel Robinson and her and Jackie’s daughter, Sharon, to the infield VIP perch.
Mo closed the ceremony in expected fashion: his extemporaneous remarks heartfelt, funny and dignified, class on display from in front of the hill. Throughout the game, video tributes -- from teammates, competitors, other sports stars and celebrities-- reigned down from the giant scoreboard. The Yankees certainly know how to do ceremonies.
On the field, the script was going right, too. Mark Reynolds (no relation) homered to put this lesser version of the Bronx Bombers ahead 1-0. Andy Pettitte, who announced his retirement on Sept. 20, carried a perfect game into the fourth, a no-hitter into the fifth before San Francisco shortstop Ehire Adrianza tied matters with his first Major League homer. Pettitte, in the eighth, surrendered a double to Pablo Sandoval on his last pitch in The Bronx. David Robertson, Rivera’s heir apparent, couldn’t pen "The Panda" there.
It wasn’t a save situation, but Rivera entered to the taped rendition of "Enter Sandman." Put five consecutive outs in the books. His singular cutter, slower than in years past, still highly effective. Yankee offensive ineptitude prevented the full fairy tale ending, but not moist eyes in section 414 for this fan, his wife Mary and daughter Sammi among the Momaniacs.
On Thursday, Sept. 26, there were chants of “Ma –ri- an-o” throughout the evening. Ivan Nova kept the feeble offense in the game against Tampa Bay. Dellin Betances, once one of the highly touted "Killer Bs," let the Rays' lead double to 4-0. Introduced by recordings from the late Bob Shepard and Metallica, Rivera entered to save the young man. A sliding catch by Curtis Granderson against Delmon Young and a bouncer back to the box from Sam Fuld got Mo into the dugout. Between innings, Rivera took refuge in the trainers’ room, reflecting on an unparalleled career. "All the flashbacks from the minor leagues to the big leagues, all the way to this moment,” he said. “It was a little hard. I was able to compose myself and come back out.”
In the ninth, Jose Labaton and Yunel Escobar – on a pop-up to second baseman Robbie Cano – were no match for Mo.
Then, Joe Girardi, if he doesn’t want to manage next year – his contract expires at season’s end – hung out his shingle as a party planner, who specializes in large affairs. The Yankee manager had asked the umpire crew in the eighth if he could send out two players – one on the disabled list— to bring Rivera home. Walking to the hill, Pettitte signaled for the right-hander, Matt Daley as it turned out, as Jeter mouthed, “It’s time to go.”
Mo couldn’t check his long-time teammates. He hugged Pettitte for what seemed like an eternity, tears flowing. Exit Sandman. Enter Emotion: for Mo, the man behind the legend, his life’s work on the field nearing its finale. The ballpark on its feet – a father and a daughter (thanks, Eric) cheering a lifetime of baseball memories, the Yankees’, Rivera’s, their own. An era at end.
Mo soaked it all in. He walked slowly to the dugout, cap raised, awash in adulation. He embraced a tearful Girardi. (Note to the event manager: symbolism called for Robertson to finish Mo’s Bronx tale.)
Pettitte had his moment, too. Before the bottom of the ninth, he stepped out of the Yankee dugout -- Tampa wouldn't take the field until Andy got his due -- to thunderous applause.
After the Yanks went down in order – Cano flew out to left in what could be his last at bat as a Bronx Bomber – to seal a 4-0 loss, Rivera returned to the mound. As Frank Sinatra sang “New York, New York,” Rivera toed the rubber on his raised home. He bent down on his right knee, scooping up a handful of dirt, a personal treasure that Steiner Sports presumably will never get to sell.
YES Network reporter Meredith Marakovits then interviewed Mo on the field. Rivera, a sage to the end, noted “these fans are No. 1, you know. I love you guys. Thank you very much."
Asked what he “would miss most about this place and team,” Rivera replied: "What I’m going to miss is the competition. You know, being on that mound and pitch. I mean, I’m okay, I can watch from the house.”
Sadly, just like the rest of us.