Now Matt Daley has a great Mariano Rivera connection
HOUSTON - Wherever his major-league career takes him, Garden City's Matt Daley will always be the answer to a very cool trivia question:
Which pitcher replaced Mariano Rivera after the venerable closer's final major-league appearance?
For Daley, Thursday night's three-pitch outing was the memory of a lifetime. Called in after Andy Pettitte and Derek Jeter went out to remove Rivera -- and after Rivera's tear-soaked embrace of Pettitte and Jeter on the mound -- Daley had to get the final out of the top of the ninth inning.
Daley, the 31-year-old called up on Sept. 6, struck out Tampa Bay's Ben Zobrist. He might end up being the only one who remembers the at-bat years from now.
The ball Daley used to strike out Zobrist was the same one that Yunel Escobar popped up on Rivera's final pitch. Daley kept it, then got Rivera to sign it.
"It was the coolest experience I've ever had on a baseball field,'' Daley said. "It was surreal. I don't know that it's totally sunk in yet.''
Daley's excellent adventure started when he was warming up in the bullpen in the eighth inning and Rivera joined him. The sellout crowd at the Stadium went nuts, with fans surrounding the bullpen taking photos and shooting cellphone videos.
"That was awesome,'' Daley said. "I was taking that in -- all the flashes, all the fans talking to Mo. I was just taking all that in.''
Rivera got the last two outs of the eighth before the Yankees batted in the bottom half of the inning. Daley's role in the evening's drama was only getting started as he began to warm up again.
"They called when Mo went back out for the ninth and said, 'We're going to take him out with two outs. So be ready for the third hitter,' '' Daley said. "And then I see Andy and Jete walking out, so I'm just standing there because I know it's going to be a little bit.
"I just kind of stood at the bullpen until I saw [Rivera] walk off. That's when I ran in and got the ball from Jete and Andy. I just said to them, 'This is just a really cool moment right now.' Jete gave me a handshake. Andy gave me the ball.''
Daley had to get ready for his appearance, but they might have been the toughest eight warmup pitches of his career. The crowd was serenading Rivera, who hugged his teammates in the dugout before reappearing for a curtain call.
"I kept looking back over my shoulder to see because I knew he was going to get a curtain call, obviously,'' Daley said. "I wanted to make sure I stopped taking my warmup pitches when he came back out. I would throw a pitch, look back over, throw a pitch, look back over. When he came back out for the curtain call, that's when I stopped taking my warmups. I was clapping on the mound for him.''
Daley, who entered Saturday night's Yankees-Astros game with a 0.00 ERA in six appearances, made short work of Zobrist before getting to have a private moment with Rivera.
"Once I struck out Zobrist, I came into the dugout,'' he said. "I saw Mo just sitting there, taking it all in. I just went up to him and I said, 'I know you've had a lot of amazing experiences on the baseball field. But I just want you to know, for me, this is the coolest experience I've ever had on a baseball field. So thank you for allowing me to be a part of it.'
"He just had a big smile on his face and said, 'Nice job.' It was an amazing moment for me, that's for sure. It's a moment I'll remember for the rest of my life. I will be telling this story until the day I'm no longer here anymore. My grandkids will be hearing this story.''