For Yankees, a great day has a numbing finish
It's finally over.
The dynasty. The Core Four. This season's Hail Mary heave for the playoffs. The air of October inevitability we've come to expect from the Yankees.
Everyone showed up Sunday at the Stadium to honor Mariano Rivera and, to a somewhat lesser extent, Andy Pettitte. But after a 2-1 loss to the Giants, the day felt more like a teary goodbye, the end of an era, the last truly great moment of baseball's Roman Empire.
For most of the day, it was a Yankee celebration like no other in recent memory, kicked off by the dedication of a new bronze plaque for Jackie Robinson in Monument Park. Rivera's No. 42 -- the uniquely pinstriped version -- was retired beside Ron Guidry. There were appearances by Jorge Posada, John Wetteland, Bernie Williams, Joe Torre and even Hideki Matsui.
Metallica played "Enter Sandman" from a stage in centerfield.
Yes, this was special, in a way that the 49,197 fans will brag to their friends and family about. And by the time Pettitte got around to throwing his first pitch, the one thing left was to do what the Yankees -- as we've come to know them -- usually do. Seize the moment, rise to the occasion, walk off a winner. Or in this case, keep their flickering playoff hopes from going out.
But they couldn't do it. And by "they," we mean everyone other than Pettitte and Rivera.
How fitting that it was those two -- half of the famous Core Four -- who were able to turn back the clock and recapture just enough of that past glory.
Pettitte allowed one hit through the first seven innings, but he had to get his farewell ovation with the score tied at 1 and the Giants threatening. Rivera delivered five outs and would have returned for the 10th if the Yankees had tied it.
But lose? On this day? No chance. "I really thought we'd have the magic to pull this one off," Pettitte said.
That magic was on full display during the pregame festivities, and the crowd roared at the sight of the former Yankees who conjured up those memories. Each provided a flashback of World Series gone by -- all of them champions -- and let everyone forget for a while the gloomier task at hand as these current Yankees tried to stay in wild-card contention.
Once the game began, however, the grim reality set in. Aside from a long homer by Mark Reynolds, the Yankees' lineup came up small, and in spectacular fashion during the late innings.
In the eighth, they had two runners thrown out at the plate, one on Zoilo Almonte's ill-advised attempt and another when Robinson Cano had to push the issue with two outs by trying to score from second on Eduardo Nuñez's single to leftfield.
The mind-numbing effect of those two failed dust-ups at the plate resonated with the sudden, irreversible finality of a car crash. Girardi described Almonte's mishap as a "bad read" by an inexperienced player "trying to do too much." But Rivera was young once. So were Pettitte and Jorge Posada and Derek Jeter.
Back then, when it mattered most, even the youngest Yankees came up with the big hit or big pitch or big catch. Girardi no doubt remembered that as he watched these Yankees lose for the sixth time in nine games.
Jeter, an unwilling spectator because of his ailing ankle, wasn't walking through that door Sunday. All the captain could do was watch.
"It was a wonderful ceremony," he said afterward, "but we've got to win games. We've really got to win every game we play. That's the bottom line."
But Jeter can't help the Yankees anymore this season, and a week from now, Pettitte and Rivera will be history. Next year, the Core Four will be down to one 39-year-old shortstop, alone with his five rings.
That's something Jeter said he hadn't thought much about before Sunday. Nobody really has. Because the Yankees never really wanted to. "I'll definitely miss them," Jeter said.
On one September Sunday, the Yankees let much more than a game slip away. There are some losses you never quite recover from.