In one of the most organic moments you’ll ever see, Mariano Rivera bid a tearful good-bye to the Bronx on Thursday, this after making his final appearance at Yankee Stadium.
“It’s amazing, isn’t it?” Tom Verducci said on The John Feinstein Show. “I always say that you could take a video of Mariano from ’96 or ’97, compare it to one today and there’s really not much of a change at all – not the way he throws, not the way he gets people out, not the way he looks in terms of his body. And it’s amazing that he’s done the most high-pressure job in baseball – that just burns people out after three or four years – for almost two decades without any drop-off in skill. It’s incredible.”
Rivera entered the game with one out in the eighth inning of the Yankees’ 4-0 loss to the Rays. He retired all four batters he faced – on just 13 pitches – before exiting with two outs in the ninth.
Only it wasn’t Joe Girardi who made the switch. It was Andy Pettitte and Derek Jeter. Rivera, who made his Yankees debut with Pettitte and Jeter in 1995, broke down and hugged both teammates for an extended period.
“It was really special because in a day and age where everybody tries to script the big moments, this one just came across as natural and organic,” Verducci said. “And my favorite part – besides Mariano just getting emotional – was when he saw Pettitte and Jeter walking out of the dugout, he had the most beautiful, most (child-like) smile on his face. Like, ‘What’s going on? Now I get it. These are my buddies. I can’t believe this.’ And he was clearly overwhelmed. That was so much fun.”
Rivera is the all-time leader in saves, with 652; 314 of them came at home, as did 18 of his 42 postseason saves. He helped the Yankees to five World Series titles and got the final out in four of them.
After 19 years, Rivera, ever the stoic, simply couldn’t hold back his emotions on Thursday.
“Deep down, he is a very sensitive guy,” Verducci said. “He’s so humble and has so much empathy for people that it’s not surprising to see those emotions come to the surface at that moment. The only other time I’ve truly seen him break down? Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS – the Aaron Boone game.
“When they beat Pedro Martinez and (Jorge) Posada tied the game with a double, Mariano was warming up in the bullpen, and he literally had to leave the mound and go back into a bathroom and cry. He didn’t want to cry in public. He was just overcome by that comeback, the emotions, the crowd. And of course Boone hits that home run.
“And if you watch the video, before Boone is even to third base to complete the home-run trot, Mariano was on the pitcher’s mound, laying down on the mound, literally hugging the pitching rubber and crying – just so thankful, completely overcome with emotions. I will never forget that image.”