Once more with feeling, this was Mariano Rivera Day in the Bronx

By Danny Knobler | Baseball Insider

Rivera (USATSI)
Mariano Rivera leaves the mound in the ninth inning to the cheers of the New York Yankees fans. (USATSI)

NEW YORK -- Standing on the Yankee Stadium mound for one final time, Mariano Rivera was in tears.

He wasn't alone.

They said Sunday was Mariano Rivera Day in the Bronx, but in a lot of ways this was. Sunday was planned, ceremonies and speeches and Metallica.

Thursday night was pure emotion.

There was a buzz in the crowd that felt like October. The flashbulbs popped, as if it was the World Series.

And Mariano Rivera pitched for the Yankees, for the final time in the home pinstripes.

It was a meaningless game for the Yankees, who were eliminated from the playoff race Wednesday. It was the only meaningless home game of Rivera's 19-year career.

Still, it was a night that many will never forget.

Rivera faced four Rays batters and retired all of them. He entered to a thunderous ovation in the eighth inning, with the Yankees using a tape of the late Bob Sheppard for his introduction.

He left with two out in the ninth to an even bigger ovation. Yankees manager Joe Girardi sent Derek Jeter and Andy Pettitte to the mound to make the change, and Rivera was in tears as he hugged Pettitte for quite a while.

"I mean, he was really crying," Pettitte said. "He was weeping. I felt like he didn't want to let go, so I just kept on hugging him."

"Thank God they came out there," Rivera said. "I was so glad. I needed them there."

This was a game like no other for Rivera, his 1,115th major-league appearance, but perhaps the first where we saw his emotions on the mound. And maybe the first where he even felt emotions on the mound.

"A totally different feeling," Rivera said.

He felt it most after the eighth inning ended. Instead of staying in the dugout, as he normally would, he walked up the stairs to the Yankee clubhouse, to the trainers room, just trying to stay under control.

"Everything started hitting me, flashbacks, to the minor leagues and the big leagues, to this moment," he said. "I was bombarded with emotions and feelings I can't describe.

"I knew it was the last time."

Two outs into the ninth, Girardi sent Pettitte and Jeter to the mound (after clearing it with the umpiring crew). Rivera departed, walking off the mound with the fans roaring, with his teammates and also the Rays players cheering. The fans demanded a curtain call, and Rivera obliged.

Soon it was done, the game (a 4-0 Yankee loss to the Rays), the Yankees' home season and the home portion of Rivera's great career.

When it was over, Rivera remained in the Yankee dugout. After all the other players had left for the clubhouse, he went back to the mound and gathered some dirt, before leaving for the final time.

Later, Girardi would nearly break down crying himself, in his postgame press conference, as he tried to talk about his former teammate.

"He made my job fun," Girardi said. "He made my job easy. But probably more than that, he made all our lives better, and we'll miss that."

The Yankees will play three games this weekend in Houston. Rivera may even play center field in one of those games.

But there won't be a night like Thursday.

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