Exit Sandman: Mariano Rivera bids goodbye to Bronx

By Ronald Blum

Associated Press

Published: Friday, Sept. 27 2013 12:10 a.m. MDT

Fans hold a sign for New York Yankees relief pitcher Mariano Rivera (42) who pitched in his final appearance at a baseball game at Yankee Stadium, Thursday, Sept. 26, 2013, in New York.

Kathy Willens, Associated Press

NEW YORK — As the cheers and chants for a sobbing Mariano Rivera shook Yankee Stadium, Derek Jeter walked to the mound and delivered the message no one really wanted to hear.

"It's time to go," the Yankees captain appeared to tell his old pal.

Baseball's most acclaimed relief pitcher made an emotional exit in his final appearance in the Yankees' home pinstripes when Jeter and Andy Pettitte came from the dugout to remove him with two outs in the ninth inning of a 4-0 loss to Tampa Bay on Thursday night.

During four minutes of a thunderous ovation from the sellout crowd 48,675, an overcome Rivera bawled as he buried his head on the right shoulder of Pettitte, who also is retiring when the season ends Sunday. Pettitte gave Rivera and 30-second bear hug, and Jeter followed with a 15-second embrace.

"I was bombarded with emotions and feeling 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."

It was one of those special Yankees scenes that will join Lou Gehrig's farewell speech, Babe Ruth's last ballpark appearance, Mickey Mantle Day, the first game after Thurman Munson's death and the finale at the old stadium across 161st Street as moments to cherish and remember.

There was hardly a dry eye in the ballpark. The Yankees and Rays stood in tribute while fans blinked back tears, honoring the closer who turns 44 in November.

His voice cracking after the game, Yankees manager Joe Girardi said he conceived the idea in the eighth inning of including Jeter and Pettitte.

"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.

Girardi conferred with 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 because I think it made the moment even more special for Mo," Girardi explained.

At first, Pettitte didn't think it was such a good idea. When he got to the mound, he quickly decided "it was awfully cool." The three players have known each other since they were in the minors in the early 1990s, and all three came up to the Yankees for the first time in 1995.

"It's crazy how fast it went by," Pettitte said.

Rivera's demeanor caught Pettitte by surprise.

"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."

Rivera had retired Delmon Young, Sam Fuld, Jose Lobaton and Yunel Escobar on 13 pitches — the overall 465th perfect outing of his big league 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," he 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 own teardrops, came out again and doffed his cap to the crowd. All the while, the Rays remained in their dugout applauding.

"''I thought it was pretty cool. I've never taken a pitcher out before," Jeter said.

"We've all grown up together," he said. "It's too bad good things have to come to an end."

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