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Mariano Rivera said goodbye to Yankee Stadium with hugs, tears and cheers.
Major League Baseball's most acclaimed relief pitcher made an emotional exit in his final appearance in the Yankees' home pinstripes when captain Derek Jeter and retiring pitcher Andy Pettitte went to the mound to remove Rivera with two outs in the ninth inning of a 4-0 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays Thursday night.
"It's time to go," Jeter appeared to tell Rivera.
During four minutes of thunderous chanting from the sellout crowd of more than 48,000, an overcome Rivera sobbed as he buried his head on Pettitte's right shoulder. The two shared a 30-second bear hug, and Rivera followed that up by embracing Jeter.
Rivera, who turns 44 in November, said he had trouble controlling himself on the mound during the ninth inning, for the first time since he left Panama and embarked on a professional baseball career in 1990.
"I was bombarded with emotions and feelings that I couldn't describe," he said after the game, flanked by his wife and three sons. "Everything hit at that time. I knew that was the last time. Period. I never felt like that before."
Yankees manager Joe Girardi, his voice cracking from emotion after the game, said he conceived the idea in the eighth inning.
"I've never seen a player pull another player, so I had to ask. And then one of them was on the DL," he said, referring to Jeter, who was put on the disabled list in mid-September because of complications from a broken left ankle he sustained last season.
Girardi asked plate umpire Laz Diaz before the ninth, and Diaz consulted with crew chief Mike Winters.
"Then I said, 'Well, can I send two?' and they said, 'Well, go ahead.' And I really appreciate that because I think it made the moment even more special for Mo."
At first, Pettitte didn't think it was a good idea. Then he got to the mound and quickly decided "it was awfully cool." The three players have known one another since they were in the minors in 1990, and all three went to the Yankees for the first time in 1995.
"I didn't say anything at first, and I didn't expect for him to be quite so emotional," Pettitte said. "He broke down and just gave me a bear hug, and I just bear-hugged him back. He was really crying. He was weeping, and I could feel him crying on me."
Jeter later said he thought it "was pretty cool" that he could walk Rivera off the mound. "I've never taken a pitcher out before," he said. "We've all grown up together. It's too bad good things have to come to an end."
Rivera had retired Delmon Young, Sam Fuld, Jose Lobaton and Yunel Escobar on 13 pitches — the 465th perfect outing of his career. He had gone to the trainer's room in the Yankees clubhouse after the top of the eighth instead of remaining in the dugout.
"Everything started hitting from there. All the flashbacks from the minor leagues to the big leagues, all the way to this moment," Rivera said.
When he walked off the mound for the final time, with two outs in the top of the ninth, he wiped his eyes with both arms and blew a kiss to the first row behind the Yankees dugout. He hugged a tearful Girardi in the dugout, grabbed a towel to dab his tears, came out again and doffed his cap to the crowd. All the while, the Rays remained in their dugout applauding.
Throughout the stands, fans blinked back their own tears.
After Rivera left the field, Pettitte came out for his own curtain call as the Rays waited in their dugout, not wanting to interrupt the moment. Rays manager Joe Maddon is a longtime fan of Rivera's consistency, durability and quiet humility.
"It's got to be what it was like to watch (Joe) DiMaggio's hitting streak, only longer," he said, impressed by both Rivera's accomplishments and the ceremony. "They know how to do things here. They're great at pomp and circumstance in this place."
After the last out, Rivera remained on the bench for a moment as Frank Sinatra's recording of "New York, New York" played.
He then took a last walk to the mound, a man alone, rubbing his feet on the rubber, kneeling and gathering a bit of his workplace as a keepsake.
"I wanted to get some dirt, just stay there for the last time, knowing that I ain't going to be there no more, especially pitching," he said. "Maybe throw a first pitch one year, one day. But competing — won't be there no more. So that little that I was there was special for me."
Rivera entered with one out and two on in the eighth to a recorded introduction by Bob Sheppard, the longtime Yankees public-address announcer who died three years ago.
Fans stood, applauded and chanted the closer's name as he jogged in from the bullpen to Metallica's "Enter Sandman," and they continued for two minutes as he took his warm-ups. The Tampa Bay bench emptied and stood on the dirt warning track in front of the dugout and applauded.
Fans remained on their feet, chanting for Rivera as he got two quick outs on six pitches. It was his first appearance since the Yankees retired his No. 42 during a 50-minute ceremony Sunday.
Eliminated from playoff contention, the Yankees finish the season with three games in Houston.
The oldest player in the major leagues, Rivera posted 314 of his record 652 saves at home during a 19-year big-league career, as were 18 of his record 42 postseason saves.
Rivera helped the Yankees to five World Series titles, getting the final out in four of them.
He'll remember his home finale along with the titles.
"It was amazing. A great, great night," he said and then paused. "We lost. I don't know how I'd be saying that."
The Associated Press
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