Published September 27, 2013
The "Mariano" chants started in the top of the eighth inning.
Thursday, the Yankees' last home game of the regular season, marked the final time Mariano Rivera would pitch at Yankee Stadium as a major leaguer. The all-time saves leader, in his 19th season, is retiring when the season concludes on Sunday.
Rivera, who owns 652 career saves and coincidentally 42 postseason saves to match the number on the back of his jersey, entered to Metallica's "Enter Sandman" one final time in the eighth inning. Manager Joe Girardi made the call to the bullpen with one out and Tampa Bay runners on first and second base.
Just about everyone at Yankee Stadium, including the visiting Rays, was on their feet as Rivera jogged to the mound. And just as he has done game after game, year after year, Rivera put out a fire.
On the first pitch, Tampa Bay's Delmon Young flew out to center. Five pitches later, Rivera fielded Sam Fuld's grounder and tossed the ball to first to escape the jam he was handed.
After the Yankees failed to cut into the 4-0 deficit in the bottom of the eighth, Rivera returned to the mound to a louder and longer ovation to start the ninth.
Rivera fielded Jose Lobaton's grounder for the first out and then retired Yunel Escobar on a pop out to second.
"It was tough to get those two outs; I don't know how I did it, but we got it done," Rivera told the crowd through a postgame on-field interview with a YES Network sideline reporter, admitting there was a lot of emotion.
After the second out, in a surprise move, Derek Jeter and Andy Pettitte came out of the Yankees dugout and called for a new reliever, bringing the crowd to another roaring ovation. In tears, Rivera hugged his two longtime Yankee teammates on the mound as the fans continued to cheer -- and hold back tears of their own.
Eventually, Rivera worked his way to the dugout where he received more hugs. As the chants of "We want Mo! We want Mo!" bellowed from the stadium, Alex Rodriguez pushed Rivera back onto the field for another standing ovation.
"They both came to get me out," Rivera said of Jeter and Pettitte in the on-field YES Network postgame interview. "I was thankful that they came out because I needed them there."
As for the fans' reaction?
"It means a lot to me," Rivera added. "These fans are the best in the world. They came to support me. I thank God. These fans are No. 1. I love you guys. Thank you very much."
Rivera and the Yankees, eliminated from playoff contention on Wednesday, will head to Houston for a weekend series to wrap up their 2013 season.
After the game, Girardi, a teammate of Rivera four seasons and his manager the past five years, said he had never seen such a farewell, except for possibly former Yankee outfielder and fan favorite Paul O'Neill.
"I've been with Mo since '96," Girardi told reporters after the game. "A lot of great times. He made my job fun; made my job easy. ...
"This is as good as it gets. The fans understand what he's meant to this organization. All the championships and the tutoring he has done. This is as good as it gets. ...
"More important than that, he made our lives better. We're going to miss him."
We here at FOXSports.com are going to miss him, too.
Thank you, Mo!