Game 159: TB vs. NYY — Exit Sandman

Mariano Rivera bids farewell to the fans
for the last time at Yankee Stadium
Photo via Jessica Foster/Getty Images

A sold-out crowd showed up for the Yankees last home game of the season to say a final Bronx farewell to Mariano Rivera and Andy Pettitte. And while most people didn’t show up for a game, except for maybe the Rays players, there was one — a forgetful one for the Yankees with one major exception.

And before I get into the flow of the game, I have to once again commend the absolute excellent defense of the Yankees. Curtis Granderson made another ridiculously awesome diving catch in the 7th inning. Also in the 7th, catcher JR Murphy fired a beautiful shot to get a runner trying to steal 2nd. And the Yankees’ infield pulled off 3 double plays over the course of the game in the 1st, 2nd, and 6th innings. (Double plays may be one of my favorite defensive plays just because it’s usually done with such grace and flair.)

Starter Ivan Nova threw a pretty good game tonight, but the Tampa Bay Rays’ starter threw a better one, taking advantage of the recent Yankees’ offensive slump. Nova went 105 pitches through 7 innings, allowing 8 hits, a walk, just 2 runs, and 5 strikeouts. The runs came courtesy of an RBI single in the 4th and a solo home run in the 7th. Nova’s 8th inning replacement was Dellin Betances, who is still trying to make an impression on the Yankees, but I’m guessing I wouldn’t refer to this game when he’s making his case for a permanent spot. Betances allowed 2 hits and an out before a 2-RBI single pushed the score to 4-0 Rays.

When Betances walked the next batter, Girardi gave the crowd what they were waited all night for — MA-RI-A-NO! Rivera jogged in from the bullpen to 48,675 fans cheering, capturing the moment on their phones, and trying desperately to breathe in every moment of this night. Rivera got the next two batters out with that familiar ease and grace in 6 pitches.

So the Yankees tried to put together a rally to give Rivera the win in the bottom of the 8th. Granderson led off with a double and Overbay singled, which forced the Rays’ starter off the mound and a call to the bullpen for a reliever. Two outs and a stolen base later, the Yankees watched their rally fade with a fly ball to center field.

And the fans were on their feet once again as Rivera jogged back out to the mound for the 9th inning. He threw 7 pitches to get those first 2 outs, and suddenly the crowd erupted. Instead of Girardi himself coming out to pull Rivera, he sent sold old pals — Derek Jeter and Andy Pettitte. As they strolled out to the mound, Jeter walked up to Rivera and said, “Time to go” as Rivera just lost it, finally getting caught up in all the emotion of the day and sobbing into the shoulder first of Pettitte and then Jeter. Finally, he succumbed to being taken out of the game and took his time slowly walking off the field toward the dugout, thanking and hugging nearly everyone in the Yankee dugout, before heading back onto the field to tip his cap to the crowd still on their feet and still cheering louder than at a World Series game.

Fun trivia question: Who came onto to replace Rivera in his final game at Yankee Stadium? Matt Daley, who immediately struck the next batter to end the inning.

In between innings, the chanting of the crowd brought out Pettitte for his own farewell tip of the cap to the fans. The Yankees were out quickly in the bottom of the 9th to end the game, but no one moved from their seats, least of all that one person at the end of the Yankees dugout. As the rest of the Yankees grabbed their stuff and headed into the clubhouse, Rivera just sat on the bench, taking in the atmosphere, the muted strains of Sinatra’s “New York, New York” playing over the loudspeakers but barely audible over the non-stop crowd cheering, wishing for just one more glance at their own legend.

But I’m guessing for Rivera the world kind of faded away and memories of games and teammates and momentous events at this stadium and the old one just a few hundred feet away (now a community little league field). And he wasn’t ready to just leave it all on the field just yet. He forgot something. He walked back to the mound for one last time, knelt down, and collected his own fistful of dirt. Then he was ready to say goodbye, thanking the fans and trying to put words on all the emotions of the moment.

Sure, the Yankees lost, but no one will remember that. This was one of the best farewells since the closing of the old stadium, and it’s so hard to imagine our Yankees without the likes of Rivera or Pettitte in pinstripes next year. It’s always so hard to say goodbye, and tonight was no exception.

Thank you, Mariano and Andy, for all the great memories! Legends in my own lifetime, you are true to the legacy of the Yankees. It’s an honor to have watched you both play with such excellence, class, and integrity. Thank you.

Go Yankees!

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