After years of unparalleled success at finishing ballgames, Mariano Rivera closed out his farewell tour and celebrated the end of an elegant career. The relief pitcher said goodbye Sunday after he stood in Yankee Stadium's Monument Park and had his No. 42 formally enshrined by the club.
With his wife and three sons beside him, the 43-year-old star from Panama unveiled a pinstriped "42" among the retired numbers of Yankees greats. The record-setting closer has been honored in every city the Yankees have visited and, at each stop, he has held a personal meeting with a select group of people. He did the same Sunday, with the select group being his former teammates, Panama president Ricardo Martinelli, other honored guests and 49,197 fans.
"I didn't know what to feel," Rivera said later. "It was emotional, a lot of adrenaline rushed through my body. But overall it was great."
During the ceremony, he walked through the bullpen door onto the field, as he has since he became a mainstay reliever in 1996. As usual, he was accompanied by his trademark entrance song, "Enter Sandman," but this time it was performed live by Metallica, the group that recorded it.
He stopped at the pitcher's mound to tip his cap. After receiving numerous farewell gifts, he took the microphone and told the packed house, "Thank you for 19 years of support. It has been a great run, guys."
Yankees manager Joe Girardi said before the ceremony, which preceded a game against the San Francisco Giants, "He mastered his craft as well as anyone I have ever seen. We have watched something that is truly special, and what he has done this year is truly special as well."
Despite his advanced age, Rivera has 44 saves this season. He pitched 12/3 scoreless innings in a 2-1 loss Sunday and would have pitched the 10th inning had the Yankees tied the score. "I was ready for it," he said.
It was clear for some time that no Yankee ever would wear No. 42 again. The number was retired throughout the major leagues in 1997 to honor Jackie Robinson, but players who were wearing it at the time were allowed to keep doing so. Rivera is the last remaining 42 in the major leagues. Robinson's widow, Rachel, and daughter, Sharon, were there Sunday to hear Rivera call Robinson "a hero and inspiration for me."
But the Yankees wanted to officially honor Rivera by including his number alongside those of Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle and other icons. Unlike any of them, he received the tribute with a week left in his career.
"While I'm still playing, I'm retired already," he said. "I guess there's always a first time."
During the ceremony, Rivera hugged former manager Joe Torre and former teammates Jeff Nelson, David Cone, John Wetteland, Hideki Matsui, Tino Martinez, Paul O'Neill, Bernie Williams and Jorge Posada, all of whom received resounding ovations. They were near him when he received an array of presents from the Yankees, including a $100,000 check for his charitable foundation and a rocking chair made from baseball bats. It was delivered by Girardi and Derek Jeter.
"I got super caught up in the moment and super emotional for him, happy that he got his day," said Posada, his former catcher, who reversed roles Sunday by throwing the ceremonial first pitch to Rivera.
Thousands of fans wore "42'' jerseys or T-shirts. Joanne Villari of Astoria said, "He's a legend.'' Joe Pagliara, who drove down from Rochester, said, "He's a hero to all of us.''
During his unscripted speech, Rivera repeatedly thanked God, as well as his wife and children, his parents ("for having me," he said), the Yankees and all of New York.
"You guys, fans, are the best. Let's play ball," he said.
With that, the closer was finished.