Mariano throws first pitch at Citi Field to Franco
Yanks icon receives gifts, then hurls ceremonial toss to former Mets closer
NEW YORK -- Mariano Rivera's job is usually to put the finishing touches on the evening's action, but the all-time saves leader stepped outside his comfort zone to throw the ceremonial first pitch before Tuesday's game at Citi Field.
Mets chief operating officer Jeff Wilpon said that he wanted the 43-year-old Rivera to kick off the second game of the Subway Series, announcing the invitation during a news conference that paid tribute to the Yankees closer's illustrious 19-year career.
"I am honored to do that. It is my pleasure," Rivera said.
As it turned out, Rivera also threw the last pitch of the night, but not under the circumstances he might have imagined as he blew his first save of the season. Even though the Mets rallied for two runs in the bottom of the ninth, stunning the Yanks with a 2-1 victory, Rivera said the Mets' gestures of recognition were special to him.
"It has been great," Rivera said. "Everywhere that I've been has been just that. They appreciate what you do, they recognize that and I thank God for that."
Following a brief highlight video played on the center-field screen that included the notation, "Congratulations on a Hall of Fame career," Rivera was cheered by the Citi Field crowd as he walked to the pitcher's mound.
Longtime big league closer John Franco, who is fourth on the all-time list with 424 saves and holds the Mets' franchise record with 276, donned his old Mets jersey and bowed to Rivera before receiving his toss behind the plate.
Before the game, Franco voiced a popular opinion when he said on Tuesday that Rivera's career has been a remarkable one to watch, especially his dominance after returning from the torn ACL that ended his season last year.
"Anything Mariano does doesn't surprise me," Franco said. "He's a great guy -- not only is he a great pitcher, but a great guy. It's good to see him come back from the injury, and to be 18-for-18 [in save opportunities this season], it doesn't surprise me. There isn't anything he can't do, and that's why he's the best."
Rivera will likely be traveling back to Queens to represent the American League in July's All-Star Game, but he already has authored many memories in the borough, where he threw the final pitch of the 2000 World Series and recorded his 500th career save in a 2009 Subway Series contest.
"Mariano, we've watched you for so many years," Wilpon said. "It's a great honor to have you here for the last time. I wish we could see you in the World Series, but I'm not sure that's going to happen."
Rivera replied with a laugh, "You never know."
"We could get on a run," Wilpon said. "The fact is, it's been great to watch you. We just really want to celebrate your last year. We're going to miss you."
As Rivera prepares to retire after the 2013 season, a decision he has said that he is 100 percent comfortable with, he has received several gifts from opposing clubs during the Yankees' road stops.
The Mets' offerings to Rivera came with a New York flavor, honoring Rivera's legacy as "the greatest fireman of all time." Wilpon and New York City Fire Commissioner Salvatore Cassano presented Rivera with a mounted hose nozzle from a FDNY truck, as well as an authentic FDNY call box.
"That's the real stuff, guys," Rivera said, grinning as he hoisted the heavy metal nozzle. "I just want to say thank you very much for all this. I don't expect this, but thank you. I definitely really appreciate it. This will be in a good place in my house."
The acknowledgement came one day after Rivera continued his "Mo-ment of Thanks" tour by meeting with approximately 18 longtime Mets season-ticket holders and club staffers in Citi Field's Jackie Robinson Rotunda.
"It will be my last game here. It has been a great career and I have enjoyed every game that I have played here," Rivera said. "[There have] been great games; I've saved some games and blown some games here. Overall, it has been wonderful."