The Boston Red Sox honored the great New York Yankees closer Mariano Rivera Sunday night with a pre-game ceremony on the infield diamond at Fenway Park. Rivera has been feted all season on his farewell retirement tour. Opposing teams have bestowed him with gifts ranging from paintings, rocking chairs made from broken bats, and even giant sandcastles. Rivera’s swan song even caused Tim McCarver to read the lyrics to “Enter Sandman” without even the slightest hint of irony during the All Star Game.
Sunday’s Fenway tribute for Rivera was probably the most surreal. The Red Sox lavished Rivera with gifts — an old No. 42 seat, a plaque, the Green Monster No. 42 scorecard placard, which was “retired” — and had a string quartet play “Enter Sandman” at home plate. David Ortiz gave out a hug. All that was missing was a cameo from Dave Roberts.
Through it all, the Boston fans cheered Rivera.
You can be the most ardent Yankee hater alive, but you’re selling yourself — and sports in general — short if you can’t turn off those anti-pinstripe blinders to recognize the greatness of Rivera. We can all take shots at “Sawk” fans, but this was a thoroughly appropriate display.
Summing up Rivera’s career with numbers like his 651 saves or his 0.70 postseason ERA is selling him short. As baseball became an even more specialized game in the late 90s, with an even greater emphasis on the bullpen, Rivera stood out from the crowd for his almost automatic ability to record the final three outs — or even six if the situation called for it. Sure, there were some famous missteps in Game Seven of the 2001 World Series or Game 4 of the 2004 ALCS, but those are further testament to the greatness of Rivera since every postseason game he didn’t save felt like a shocker. Other than those few blips, when Rivera entered with a lead it meant one thing: game over.
When Derek Jeter finally hangs up his spikes in the next couple seasons, it may lead to even more tributes and words than with Rivera. Jeter is the Yankees’ captain and the franchise’s all-time hits leader. However, the impact of Rivera and his ability to lockdown the ninth inning will be harder to replace. For nearly two decades the Yankees have always had an ace up their sleeve — Rivera. That goes away once this 2013 season is over, possibly before October as the Yankees are now three games back in the Wild Card race following Sunday night’s 9-2 loss in Boston. When Rivera is gone the Yankees will be just another team with a $200 million dollar payroll, sweating it out for those final three outs like everybody else.
For now, Rivera has two more weeks in pinstripes.
Sunday night he returned the affection from the Red Sox organization, in a simple, classy way by leaving his signature inside the Boston bullpen thanking his own team’s biggest rivals. It was a fitting, since no one else will use the No. 42 bullpen placard after Rivera retires.
Would you expect anything else?