Painful ending to Mariano’s special day

And so the farewell tour finally came to Yankee Stadium.

Mariano Rivera’s year-long sojourn throughout North America in his last major-league season has given him the opportunity to connect with fans and employees of all teams. Sunday at the Stadium was about recognition and appreciation from the people who have felt that way about him all of the past 19 seasons.

No franchise handles ceremonies such as these better than the Yankees. And more often than not, the team tops it off with a victory. Not this time, however. The script that should have called for Rivera saving the victory in Andy Pettitte’s last start at the Stadium did not materialize. The two pitchers who have combined for the most victories and saves as a tandem did not push the record total to 73 as the Giants pulled out a 2-1 victory that put the Yankees’ wild-card chances on life support.

“We’re still alive,” manager Joe Girardi said, “but this one hurt.”

It hurt in many ways, not just in the back-to-the-wall posture it placed the team in reference to a postseason berth but also in the aesthetic quality of a feel-good conclusion to a special day before a crowd of 49,197 on a postcard afternoon.

The Yankees pulled out all stops in the pregame ceremony for Rivera, the all-time saves leader who is closing out the career of the game’s greatest closer. After a proclamation from New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg was read declaring Sunday “Mariano Rivera Day,” members of the families of the late Yankees owner George Steinbrenner and the late Hall of Famer Jackie Robinson stood beside Mo for the unveiling of special plaques to honor the most distinguished player to wear uniform No. 42.

The plaque for Jackie Robinson marked the first in Monument Park for a player from another team. Jackie competed against the Yankees with the Brooklyn Dodgers in six World Series. When ‘42’ was retired in perpetuity in 1997 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of his breaking the color barrier in the big leagues, players wearing the number at the time could keep it. Rivera was the last of those players, and his ‘42’ was retired and placed where Robinson’s blue-toned ‘42’ has been located.

“I didn’t know what to feel,” Rivera said. “At the monument they retired my number, so I guess I am officially retired.”

On the infield in front of the mound were collected many of the people Mo considered important to his career – senior vice president and special adviser Gene Michael, former manager Joe Torre, former trainer Gene Monahan and former teammates Jeff Nelson, David Cone, John Wetteland, Hideki Matsui, Tino Martinez, Paul O’Neill, Bernie Williams and Jorge Posada.

Current teammate Robinson Cano escorted Rachel and Sharon Robinson, Jackie’s widow and daughter, respectively, onto the field; longtime teammate Derek Jeter did likewise for Clara, Mariano Jr., Jafet and Jaziel, Mo’s wife and children. Performing on a bandstand on the center field warning track, Metallica belted out a live version of “Enter Sandman,” which has been his entrance theme since 1999, eight years after the song’s initial release.

Rivera walked to the mound rather than making his usual trot as the band played. The group also presented him with a custom speaker from a recent tour with a sign reading “No. 42 Sandman” on the front. Yankees team president Randy Levine, chief operating officer Lonn Trost and the Steinbrenner family presented Rivera with a $100,000 donation to his foundation.

Even the Giants got into the act. Pitching coach Dave Righetti, first base coach Roberto Kelly, batting coach Hensley “Bam-Bam” Meulens and assistant hitting coach Joe Lefebvre – all former Yankees – gave Rivera a water-color painting of him pitching at San Francisco’s AT&T Park and an electric guitar featuring the signature of Willie Mays imbedded on the front.

Girardi and Jeter on behalf of the players presented Mo with a rocking chair and a Waterford crystal replica of his glove.

Morock

Mariano Rivera rocks
(USA Today photo)

In addressing the crowd, Rivera got off a good line about his parents, “Thank you for having me that day or that night – I don’t know which – but gracias!” and then to the fans, “Thank for 19 years of support. You were always there for me and the organization, and I will never forget it.”

After paying tribute to his homeland of Panama and his adopted country of the United States (he lives year-round in Westchester County), Rivera said, “So let’s play ball, man. We got to go!”

Pettitte did his best to top the ceremony by flirting with a perfect game and no-hitter for five innings. He retired the first 14 batters before walking Pablo Santoval with two out in the fifth inning. Pettitte was still working on a no-no with one out in the sixth when rookie shortstop Ehire Adrianza hit his first career home run to tie the score. Mark Reynolds had homered off Giants starter Yusmeiro Petit (pronounced puh-TEET) leading off the third inning.

Pettitte admitted he thought about a no-hitter but admitted, “I don’t know if my body would allow me to pitch nine innings anymore.”

He lasted until the first batter in the seventh when Sandoval doubled. Rivera was up in the pen, but Girardi brought in David Robertson, who got the first out on a ground ball but hung a curve to Tony Abreu, who doubled to right to score what proved the deciding run. Rivera entered the game at that point and got out of the inning aided by a sliding catch in center field by Curtis Granderson. Mo worked a scoreless ninth as well and was intent on staying in the game until the Yankees won it.

They wasted a prime scoring opportunity in the eighth after getting runners on second and third with none out but both were subsequently thrown out at the plate. The Yankees went down in order in the ninth, so no victory for them or Rivera. A tough loss was hung on Pettitte, who unless he wins his final start later this week at Houston will have a losing record (10-11) for the first time in his career.

The Rays, Indians and Royals all won their games Sunday. The Yankees are four games behind Cleveland for the second wild-card spot with six to play, three of which will be against Tampa Bay at the Stadium beginning Tuesday night. They hope that series won’t be a farewell for the team in 2013.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

%d bloggers like this: