Mariano Rivera had accomplished everything he could have possibly dreamed of. During his 19-year career, the right-hander had saved more games than anybody in history, won five World Series championships and earned the respect of everybody involved with the game.
The Yankee had experienced a magical moment at the All-Star Game in July 2013 -- at the Mets’ Citi Field, of all places -- when he took the mound for the eighth inning and found himself standing on the field by himself, soaking in the adoration of 45,000 fans -- and the players standing at both dugouts.
But as his career wound down to its final days, Rivera had one last moment that he counts among his most special -- and one he had no idea was coming.
MLB.com’s Full Account takes a deep dive into Rivera’s life, including his final moment on a baseball field, which wound up being one of the most memorable of his career. (You can download this podcast on iTunes, Spotify, Art19, or anywhere else where you access your podcasts.)
When Rivera arrived at Yankee Stadium on Sept. 26, he knew he would be pitching in pinstripes for the final time. He hadn’t officially decided that he would watch from the sidelines during the Yankees’ final series in Houston, but there was something poetic about him closing his career with one last appearance in front of the home crowd he cherished dearly.
The Yankees had been eliminated from the Wild Card race the previous night, but that didn’t stop more than 48,000 people from packing the Stadium for the game against Tampa Bay, hoping for one last look at the future Hall of Famer.
Rivera recorded two quick outs to end the eighth inning, then returned to the clubhouse to get ready for the ninth. That’s when it hit him.
“When I was sitting in the training room, these scenes crossed my mind like a picture, like a movie from 1990 that I left Panama to all the processes that I went through to that point,” Rivera said. “It was amazing. And then, when I go to the mound, I got the first guy out. The second guy out. I said, man, this is it. We were out of the playoffs; this is it. This is the last time that I will pitch here at Yankee Stadium.
“Now, I'm all messed up. Now, my heart, my mind, my body, everything was messed up. Everything was crumbling. That was it.”
With one out to go, manager Joe Girardi decided to remove Rivera, giving the fans a chance to show their love and appreciation for him one last time. Little did we know, but Girardi had another trick up his sleeve.
Girardi wasn’t the one emerging from the dugout to make the pitching change. Instead, it was Derek Jeter and Andy Pettitte, two of Rivera’s baseball brothers, walking to the mound to take the ball from him one last time.
“That was something that Joe Girardi had mentioned to me and Derek earlier in that game, that he would like for us to do that. Me and Derek both were like, ‘Eh, I don’t think that’s a good idea.’ Me and Derek thought that would be awkward; we didn’t want to show the other team up or do anything like that. Joe Girardi was like, ‘Man, I think it would be special.’ Thank goodness we did it, because that was a special moment.”
As Yankees radio play-by-play voice John Sterling said during his memorable call, “Not a dry eye in the house.”
Especially not Rivera’s. The closer smiled as his teammates approached the mound, handing over the ball before embracing Pettitte. As he hugged his friend, Rivera broke down in tears, crying uncontrollably as the enormity of the moment seemed to overtake him.
“He’s really overcome,” Yankees radio analyst Suzyn Waldman said. “He’s really sobbing.”
“That moment was the icing on the cake,” Rivera said. “That moment was the moment in my career as a baseball player. Having my two brothers standing with me on the mound and closing my career, that was special. That was special. Even if I couldn't write it, it could never be that good, the way it happened.”
For more on Rivera’s final season, the origin of his “Enter Sandman” entrance music and many of the moments that made him the greatest of all time, check out Episode 4 of MLB.com’s Full Account podcast series on the life of the Yankees’ Hall of Famer.