As Mariano Rivera prepares to retire, the closer's farewell tour has become a central subplot to the season. Major League Baseball's all-time saves leader has been greeted warmly in each of his road stops, and the Yankees are planning a ceremony of their own to honor Rivera's illustrious career in September.
Rivera will be the last active player to regularly wear uniform No. 42, with the number having been retired throughout MLB in 1997 to honor the achievements of barrier-breaking great Jackie Robinson. During his 19-year big league career, Rivera has also chiseled his own mark on the number's legacy. In honor of Rivera and his contributions, MLB.com is commemorating 42 notable moments from Rivera's career -- the 42 Days of Mo.
Mariano Rivera toed the rubber on the Yankee Stadium mound, took the sign from catcher Jose Molina and delivered a 93-mph cutter to Brian Roberts. The Orioles second baseman hit a slow roller toward first base, where Cody Ransom scooped up the ball, stepped on the first-base bag and shook Rivera's hand.
The Yankees had just beaten the Orioles, 7-3, on Sept. 21, 2008. It was the final game in the 85-year history at the old Yankee Stadium, and, perhaps fittingly, Rivera threw the last pitch in the Bronx's storied Cathedral.
"It was emotional -- it was a great night," the Yankees' legendary closer said after the game. "It's something that I'll never forget. I was thankful for the opportunity to be on the mound for the last out."
It wasn't a save situation, but it seemed as though Rivera had to be the pitcher on the mound to close out the final game in the ballpark's history.
Handed a four-run cushion entering the ninth inning, Rivera needed only 11 pitches to retire the Orioles in order. Left fielder Jay Payton grounded out to short, pinch-hitter Luke Scott grounded out to second and Roberts ended the game on a groundout to first.
"A lot of great moments for me happened right here," Rivera said. "I wanted to be the last guy to stand on this mound. ... I can't believe I will never pitch on this mound [again]."
It was a night filled with "lasts" for the Yankees. As the last starter, Andy Pettitte threw five-plus innings and gave up three runs (two earned) on seven hits to record the stadium's last win.
Molina hit the last Yankee Stadium home run, launching his third blast of the year -- a two-run home run -- onto the netting above Monument Park in the fourth inning.
Yankees manager Joe Girardi replaced Pettitte in the sixth inning so he could receive a standing ovation from the 54,610 fans at Yankee Stadium, and Girardi removed shortstop Derek Jeter from the game for Wilson Betemit in the ninth inning so he could receive a similar ovation.
"It was great -- it was very special," said Pettitte, who was coaxed out of the dugout for a curtain call. "I appreciate the fans so much here. They've always been so great for me. It's very unusual -- I wasn't going to go out there, but some of the guys said to do it. I said, 'What the heck?' It's going to be right up there, as far as special nights."
But the last pitcher in old Yankee Stadium will forever be Rivera. The Yankees beat the Red Sox in their first ever game at the Cathedral on April 18, 1923, and the future Hall of Famer closed out the victory in the last game there 85 years later.
"I have experienced World Series, I have experienced All-Star Games, you name it," Rivera said, "but this is something special. We wanted to do it for the fans of New York, the best fans in baseball. We definitely needed to do it for them, and I was glad we were able to do it."
Josh Vitale is an associate reporter for MLB.com.