Metallica performs as Mariano Rivera says goodbye at Yankee Stadium
BY HOWARD MEGDALL USA Today Sports September 22, 2013 6:30PM
Updated: September 22, 2013 6:37PM
NEW YORK -- Throughout the day at Yankee Stadium dedicated to honoring Mariano Rivera, current and former teammates and managers alike kept pointing out how such a personal celebration ran counter to the way Rivera conducted himself.
“Every single year, if anybody had a chance to admire what they’d done, he’d be one of those guys,” Rivera’s manager for 12 years, Joe Torre, said of Rivera on Sunday. “Because it wasn’t time to stop doing.”
But that time is almost here, not because Rivera has seen his performance dip, even at 43 years old, but because Rivera himself is ending his career.
So everyone did what Rivera would not do himself: a sellout crowd, Rivera’s past and present teammates and other baseball legends showered him with plaudits and, naturally, commemorative gifts to honor the greatest closer in baseball history, in a 51-minute ceremony prior to the Giants’ 3-2 win over the Yankees.
And by the end, Rivera honored his career by attempting to save the Yankees one more time, though offensive and defensive failures kept him from doing so. Still, the day, which included a retiring of Rivera’s number before the Yankee great’s career even ended, followed by a vintage Rivera performance that would have continued into a third inning had the Yankees tied the game in the ninth, served as a tribute to his career.
“I mean, while I’m still playing, I’m retired already,” Rivera said, chuckling, following the game. “But it was good. I guess there’s always a first time.”
Fans repeatedly broke into “Mariano” chants as teammates like Bernie Williams, Jorge Posada and dignataries including Jackie Robinson’s wife Rachel came together to retire Rivera’s number 42.
Even Metallica, whose “Enter Sandman” became the iconic entrance music for Rivera, was on hand to play a live version as Rivera slowly walked in from the bullpen, bathed in cheers, as his former teammates sat in chairs around the Yankee Stadium mound.
After Rivera kissed his wife, Clara, and hugged his three children, the onslaught of presents began: a painting and a custom-built guitar signed by Willie Mays from the Giants. A custom-built speaker cabinet from Metallica to Rivera. A $100,000 check from the Yankees to the Mariano Rivera Foundation, not to mention a custom-built rocking chair, presented by Derek Jeter and Girardi. Rivera, a good sport, took it for a spin. Then, a replica of his retired number, and a Waterford Crystal replica of his mitt.
Rivera, fighting back tears, thanked God, his family, and his teammates first. “To my teammates, past and present, I appreciate you guys,” Rivera told the Yankee Stadium crowd. “The lord has blessed me with a big family, and all of these men have been part of this family.”
Rivera concluded his speech simply: “So let’s play ball, man, we gotta go. So I love you guys! Thank you!”
A few hours later, he was back, with the Yankees trailing, 2-1 in the eighth inning. He’d already pitched four multi-inning relief appearances in September, still managing to post a 2.13 ERA this month despite his advanced age.
“I think it just tells you who he is,” Girardi, now 48 and retired for a decade, said prior to the game. “He does everything he possibly can to be successful. He prepares himself physically, mentally. To be able to do that at 43 is mind-boggling to me. I really believe that in our lifetime, I don’t know that we’ll be able to say that about another pitcher.”
New Yankee Stadium roared in late September for Rivera the way its old counterpart so often did in October, Rivera striking out Ehire Adrianza, who’d homered earlier, and inducing a soft fly out from Angel Pagan to end the eighth, stranding a runner in the process. After Juan Perez singled and Brandon Belt reached on a tailor-made double-play ball, Rivera didn’t yield, breaking Buster Posey’s bat, and inducing a double play from Hunter Pence.
Effectively, Rivera got seven outs. Had the Yankees rallied in the ninth, they’d have asked for another three.
“I want to win the game,” Rivera said. “And yes, I was coming ⅛back⅜ out if we tied the game. At that time, you don’t think about it. ... I was ready for that. Unfortunately, it didn’t happen.”
Still, on a day to celebrate Rivera, his dominance was an appropriate capstone.
“Where does he stand?” Torre asked of Rivera, rhetorically. “There’s nobody, I don’t care what era you’re talking about, there’s nobody who’s ever going to do what he’s done as a closer. He’s top of the game, as far as his position. He’s an athlete. He’s about as close to a regular player as you’re going to find, coming out of the bullpen.”