By Julian Linden
NEW YORK (Reuters) – The emotion finally got to Mariano Rivera on Thursday.
After playing it super-cool during his 19 years in Major League Baseball, his final game at Yankee Stadium proved too much.
Baseball’s greatest closer was reduced to tears, sobbing uncontrollably on the mound as the enormity of the occasion hit him. And he was not alone.
His team mates and the Yankees manager Joe Girardi were also overcome with raw emotion, as they embraced him on the field then in the dugout.
In the stands, which were packed as the Yankees faithful came out to bid farewell to one of their greatest champions, more tears flowed.
The crowd rose to their feet, chanting Rivera’s nickname “Mo” as more than tens of thousands of camera flashes lit up the Bronx.
“It definitely was a magic moment,” said Rivera, who rose from poverty in his native Panama to be one of the most revered players in America’s favorite pasttime.
When the game was over, the 43-year-old returned to the pitcher’s mound for one last time, scooping up a handful of dirt which he put in his pocket as the memories of his spectacular career came flooding back.
“I was bombarded with emotions and feelings I couldn’t describe. Everything hit. I knew that was the last time, period,” he said.
Girardi, his eyes still welling with tears long after the game had finished, told reporters: “This is as good as it gets.
“It’s probably as special of a going-out for any player I’ve ever seen.”
The raw emotion of Rivera’s farewell added a touch of real poignancy to a game that had not gone as planned for the Yankees.
If the baseball gods had been kinder, Rivera might have been playing in another World Series, clinching the victory himself with a flawless final inning pitch.
But instead, there was nothing at stake for the Yankees because they had lost the previous day and were out of contention to make the playoffs.
Their opponents, the Tampa Bay Rays, were still fighting for a wildcard so could not afford to join in the sentiment, and thrashed the Yankees 4-0.
With the Yankees so far behind, Rivera did not have the chance to add to his record tally of 652 career saves.
Normally he would not have pitched at all, but this was a special occasion for the last MLB player allowed to wear No. 42, the same number as Jackie Robinson, the first black player to compete in the majors.
Girardi introduced Rivera into the game midway through the eighth inning. He entered the field, as he always does, as the strains of Metallica’s ‘Enter the Sandman’ – Rivera’s entrance song – blasted through the stadium’s sound system.
Suddenly, the result of the game did not seem to matter. It was almost as though time stood still as Rivera produced some of his old magic, pitching an inning and a third.
He gave up no hits and no runs. The Rays applauded him just as warmly and enthusiastically as the people in the stands.
When his time was called, it came in an unexpected fashion that tugged at the heart strings. Derek Jeter and Andy Pettitte, two of Rivera’s oldest friends, walked out on the mound together, to take him out of the game.
Pettitte and Jeter both hugged him and it was only then that Rivera, who has been on a seemingly endless farewell tour since announcing his retirement at the start of the year, finally lost control of his emotions.
“It was really cool and we’ve had some great moments here,” said Pettitte.
“He broke down and gave me a bear hug and I just bear hugged him back. He was really crying, he was really weeping.”