NEW YORK – The legends were out in force Sunday night as the New York Yankees turned off the lights at their home of 85 years.
In attendance for nostalgia and celebration were Ford and Berra, Jackson and Guidry. On hand were Gossage and Nettles, Cone and Williams.
Oh, and Molina.
On a night when the franchise celebrated its glorious past – and a night which would have marked the Yankees' official elimination from postseason contention for the first time since 1993 had they lost – perhaps it was appropriate that the biggest hit came from an unlikely source.
It's a defense-minded backup who has three home runs this season and 19 since his career started in 1999.
"Here's a guy who worked his tail off all these years," said Yankees outfielder Johnny Damon, who homered in the third inning. "He's a great game-caller. Not really known for his hitting."
Until now. Until one swing.
"He's always going to be remembered for hitting the last home run here at Yankee Stadium and that's awesome for him," Damon said. "He's such a tremendous guy. It's great."
The Yankees are a franchise in transition. From old stadium to new, from one Steinbrenner to another, from World Series-winning manager to World Series-winning former player at the helm, and from old guard to … well, to exactly what, remains to be seen.
And therein lies the lesson from the finale.
Barring a miracle, the Yankees' World Series drought will reach eight seasons – and it's been five since they reached the Fall Classic. In that time, they've continued to shell out hundreds of millions of dollars and bring in big names.
But what has been missing – and this is a sentiment expressed by many Yankees fans – is the presence of reliable role players, the glue guys.
Recall key moments from the relatively recent past. For every Derek Jeter heroic, there was a Scott Brosius blast. For every Mariano Rivera ninth-inning punch-out, there was a Joe Girardi triple, a Jim Leyritz home run or an Aaron Boone walk-off.
Molina fits the mold.
"We just have to concentrate on our roles and not worry about anyone else," he said of his non-superstar status.
For the Yankees to win, especially big games – and rest assured, manager Girardi, Jeter and Co. viewed this as a very big one – they need contributions from everyone on the roster (especially when Alex Rodriguez forgets how to provide them).
"I'm really happy," said Molina, who began grinning before even reaching third base during his home run trot. "Enjoying this moment."
The excitement began before the first pitch. The Yankees paid tribute to past greats, trotting them onto the diamond during a lengthy ceremony.
The ovation given to longtime center fielder Bernie Williams – the last former player introduced – stole the show, but Brosius' reception was nearly just as raucous.
Any nostalgic Yankees fan can explain why. It's about the guys who provided memorable moments.
This is Jeter's team. He received a thunderous ovation when he approached the plate for his final at-bat, and Girardi pulled him from the field with two out in the ninth so he could be recognized one more time. Jeter addressed the fans after the game, giving an eloquent speech on what it meant to wear pinstripes.
Yet it wasn't the Yankee captain who came up big Sunday night.
"It was amazing to see all those great players on the same field," Molina said.
On an unforgettable night, he was one of them.