Beyond the Bison: “Mission Accomplished”
Apparently Hollywood endings can happen on crisp, fall New York nights too.
It was Sept. 26 when Mariano Rivera emotionally took his last career bow at Yankee Stadium.
Gone is the all-time saves leader and his stunning 652 lockdown closeouts. Gone is the class act who was loved and praised by every fan base. Gone is the last man to ever wear the number 42 in the Major Leagues (Jackie Robinson’s MLB-retired number).
It might not have happened this way without the fight and persistence of Mo himself. After tearing his ACL in a
pre-game incident in 2012, Rivera vowed that he would not “go out like this” and that he would return for one more season in 2013 at age 43. Many speculated that it was bravado and denial that led him to believe he could bounce back from such a major injury at his age. But not Rivera.
Rivera put his head down and went to work to rehabilitate his ACL. By the time spring training began in February, he was ready to go for what he said would be his last season.
He did not disappoint at all, as he pitched the entire year and finished with a Rivera-esque 2.11 ERA (to go along with 44 saves and 54 strikeouts).
Despite the Yankees’ own struggles with an aging core, Alex Rodriguez’s ridiculous steroids side-show, and an inability to contend for much of anything, Rivera quietly enjoyed his swan song that had a different feel to it than just about any other closing act in memory.
Throughout the season, just about every ballpark in baseball honored Rivera in some way when the Yankees were in town, including the cathedral of Boston itself, Fenway Park.
If that’s not admiration and respect for a player at its highest level, I don’t know what is.
All-Star weekend was practically Rivera’s personal retirement bash for two days, and Rivera pitched a 1-2-3 inning for the American League team to cap it off. But nothing beat his ultimate appearance in the Majors.
In Rivera’s final game at Yankee Stadium, manager Joe Girardi sent the closer into the game with just one out in the eighth (Rivera routinely closed out games starting in the eighth inning throughout his career, a rarity among closers). Not one fan or player in the building cared that the Yankees were down 4-0. Rivera stepped out of the bullpen with his usual pre-play song, “Enter Sandman,” blasting on the speakers for one last time.
On his trot through the outfield, surrounded by decks and sections dedicated to the Yankee greats he was soon to be among like Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, and Yogi Berra, Rivera tuned everything out one last time to get some outs.
With the fans on their feet and both dugouts sensing the history unfolding in front of them, Rivera pitched through four batters (two in the eighth and two in the ninth), retiring them with ease. What happened next was the culmination of a season’s worth of honors.
Girardi decided to pull Rivera before the last out so that he could have his final curtain call and honorary moment as a player. Instead of going out to the mound to make the change himself, Girardi sent out two of Rivera’s oldest teammates and fellow Yankee legends, Derek Jeter and Andy Pettitte.
Completely caught off guard, Jeter and Pettitte weren’t even at the mound yet when Rivera’s eyes began to well up. After about a minute of good, old-fashioned bear hugs and masculine tears, Rivera left the mound to say his final goodbye.
The send-off ranked right up there with the curtain calls of Gehrig and Joe DiMaggio, and the moment felt like pure history. One of the greatest players of all time tearfully said his final goodbye to the most historic franchise in American sports.
Rivera retires as the all-time saves leader (
51 saves clear of the rest of the field) and as one of the greatest postseason pitchers of all time with a 0.70 ERA in 141 innings pitched over 96 career postseason games. Numbers like that may never be replicated again in our lifetimes.
The Yankees may be an easy team to hate, but my hat is (and all of our hats should be) off to Rivera for being a high-class, phenomenal player for the past 19 years.