Pitch in Houston after Stadium send-off? Just say no, Mo

Mariano Rivera of the Yankees walks to the Mariano Rivera of the Yankees walks to the clubhouse after the game against the Tampa Bay Rays at Yankee Stadium. (Sept. 26, 2013) Photo Credit: Jim McIsaac

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Jim Baumbach Newsday columnist Jim Baumbach

Jim Baumbach is an investigative / enterprise sports reporter for Newsday. A Long Island native, he started working ...

The situation wasn't perfect. Not even close. The Yankees were losing. It was the eighth inning. Obviously there was no save situation.

As far as baseball machinations go, there was no reason for the Yankees to use their closer.

Yet none of that mattered. On this night, everyone came to Yankee Stadium to see Mariano Rivera one last time -- to say goodbye -- and they accomplished that.

There in the eighth, "Enter Sandman" played, and the fans stood, chanted his name and snapped pictures as Rivera jogged through the bullpen doors, yes, one last time.

The closer, now just days from retirement, escaped a two-on, one-out situation and then slowly walked to the dugout, head down, like he's done hundreds of times.

Then, when he was removed from the game for the final time with two outs in the ninth -- by teammates Derek Jeter and Andy Pettitte, no less -- he cried.

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On the Yankee Stadium mound, Mariano Rivera cried.

Sure, the Yankees lost. There was no save for the all-time saves leader. But no one cared. As far as endings go, this was pretty darn cool.

So for the sake of preserving the finality of this perfectly authentic and genuine baseball moment, let's hope someone can convince Rivera to not take the mound again.

Now the Yankees are off to Houston for three meaningless games to close out a rare postseason-less season, only their second since Rivera's rookie season in 1995.

And something just doesn't feel right about seeing him finish his Hall of Fame career away from the Bronx, especially after this moment.

If his career wasn't destined to end in the postseason, then at least the Yankees and Rivera were given the opportunity to arrange for his final pitching appearance to take place in the Bronx, where he has become synonymous with the ninth inning.

That it was Jeter and Pettitte who took him out, and that he cried on their shoulders, was a scene no one here will forget.

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

Joe Girardi said it will be Rivera's decision whether to pitch in Houston. "My guess is if there's a save opportunity, he's going to want to gobble it up," the manager said.

When Rivera was asked before last night's game, he said, "I'll be pitching here, I'll be pitching here, and if I have an opportunity to pitch in Houston, I'll pitch there, too."

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But after the emotion of this night subsides, let's hope Rivera reconsiders.

That Rivera may play centerfield in Houston is a reminder of just how meaningless these upcoming games are.

And as much as Rivera has always wanted to play centerfield, even he seemed slightly uncomfortable by it becoming a reality. "I won't be making a fool of myself there," he said.

Rivera's career has been defined by big-stage moments, so much so that pitching in a playing-out-the-string scenario is so unfamiliar.

Last night marked his 1,115th regular-season appearance, and yet it was only the second time he came in when the team had already been mathematically eliminated from making the playoffs.

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That's why Rivera initially expressed hesitancy about even taking the mound last night. The competitor in him wanted nothing to do with a going-through-the-motion outing. But what Rivera ultimately realized was that he would be pitching for something meaningful -- "to say goodbye to the fans," as he said.

And he did just that, as classy as always. He cried. And after the game, he returned to the mound alone to pick up dirt.

This was goodbye, on the right stage.

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