COMMENTARY | The scene was perfectly picturesque -- fluffy, white clouds, a cool breeze and a jam-packed Yankee Stadium.
This was the day the New York Yankees were set to celebrate one of the best players to ever don pinstripes, Major League Baseball all-time saves leader Mariano Rivera.
Better yet, the winningest Yankees starter since the mid-'90s, Andy Pettitte, who recently announced his intent to retire, would step to the mound for his final regular season start at Yankee Stadium. Further, there were important playoff implications at hand. The script could be written by a novice.
Unfortunately, this is not one of the Yankees' teams that Rivera and Pettitte won a World Series with. This may not be a team that they can push into the playoffs.
Rivera, whose No. 42 was retired before the game, was the most important key to the Yankees' five World Series championships and Pettitte was a rotation mainstay for each those magical runs. Both men performed exactly as anyone would have drawn it up against the San Francisco Giants on Sept. 22, deemed Mariano Rivera Day by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
Pettitte tossed seven-plus innings and Rivera retired five Giants batters in his scoreless appearance. But, everyplace in between, there was something missing. Mystique and Aura were nowhere to be seen.
Derek Jeter and Brett Gardner, while dressed in uniform, were unavailable. Mark Teixeira could only be seen in video montages. Paul O'Neill sat in the YES Network booth. Tino Martinez, Bernie Williams, Hideki Matsui and Jorge Posada were all in plain clothes. The offensive heroes of years past were simply not options as the Yankees struggled to push across runs when it mattered.
The Bombers had their chances. They squandered a second and third opportunity with one out in the bottom of the seventh with the score knotted at one. A washed up tandem of Ichiro Suzuki and Vernon Wells were the Yankees hitters who were sent down easily by Giants reliever Javier Lopez, both on swinging strikes.
After Pettitte allowed a leadoff double to start the eighth, he was removed to a rousing standing ovation from the Yankee faithful. He tipped his cap as he approached the dugout. The looks of frustration and the relief each showed on his 41-year-old face. In his heyday, Pettitte likely gets through that inning without allowing a run in a game the Yankees needed to win. This time he simply ran out of gas.
In came the heir apparent to Rivera, David Robertson. When Rivera was a second-year player the eighth inning was his spot -- the man to get the ball to the closer -- and the Yankees typically won. Only Robertson, while certainly the Yanks' best option, could only muster one out before allowing a go-ahead double.
Yankees manager Joe Girardi, sensing the game, one which the team absolutely needed to win, was going to blow up, summoned Rivera in a non-save situation. Rivera entered through the bullpen fence for the second time of the day to Metallica's Enter Sandman. Rivera shut down the inning just as anyone in the ballpark expected.
The stage was set up as well as anyone could want. The heart of the Yankees' order was due up in the bottom of the eighth, down just a run with the greatest closer of all time set to pick up a victory in the ninth.
A gimpy Alex Rodriguez singled to open the inning and was replaced on the bases by rookie Zoilo Almonte as the Yankees had no speedy veterans on the bench. Robinson Cano, undoubtedly the Yankees' best player, came through with a double past a diving Brandon Belt at first base, putting runners at second and third with no one out. The Stadium was bouncing again.
It seemed that Mystique and Aura would actually make a parting appearance for Pettitte and Rivera. One more time the Yankees were on the verge of a storybook comeback. Except, Down and Out showed up.
Almonte hesitated on a grounder hit by Alfonso Soriano to third and the rookie was dead meat at the plate. Curtis Granderson struck out, leaving the rally in the hands of Eduardo Nunez, who delivered the hit they needed on a 97-mph fastball from Santiago Casilla. Cano, not the speediest runner, was on second and Giants left fielder Juan Perez was playing in. Cano widely rounded third and Perez threw a perfect bullet to catcher Buster Posey for the final out of the inning. Sigh.
Once again, Rivera did his part in the top half of the ninth inning. He broke another bat and prevented the Giants from scoring despite having two runners on with one out.
While watching this unfold, I still had the feeling that the Yankees would prevail. I've been watching this team since the late-'70s and I've seen many of the great comebacks. I've witnessed enough to know that these are games the Yankees win, especially in their ballpark. I've been brainwashed and spoiled.
But then the reality set in. I'll be honest, the names coming up in the bottom half of the inning did not inspire confidence -- Mark Reynolds, Brendan Ryan and JR Murphy. None of these players were on the roster August 15. That should say enough about the Yanks' true chances -- and did. Giants closer Sergio Romo set down the trio in order and the Yankees lost a game they've always won.
In the late-90s, no one makes a baserunning error at a crucial spot and any play at the plate goes the Yankees' way. Most important, the teams of Rivera's and Pettitte's dominant years had been built as such that any player could be perceived as a likely hero in the late innings. Remember Scott Brosius and Luis Sojo?
That was then. This is now. Nostalgia could not overshadow the truth of this season.
We say goodbye and thank you to Mo and Andy, who deserved the pomp and circumstance. It's just too bad they may not finish on top one last time.
Chris Carelli is a freelance baseball writer/editor. He is a New York Yankees contributor published on Yahoo Sports and has previously written and edited content for several online baseball publications. Chris is also the Director of Content Strategy for Sportsideo. For more baseball commentary you can follow Chris on Twitter.
- Sports & Recreation
- Mariano Rivera
- New York Yankees
- Andy Pettitte