If Mariano Rivera is going to get back to Fenway Park, the Yankees will have to be one of the AL’s wild card teams.
Mike Napoli hit a two-run homer and Daniel Nava had four hits as the Boston Red Sox eliminated New York from the AL East race with a 9-2 win Sunday night.
During a pregame ceremony, the Red Sox honored Rivera and then he spent the rest of the night watching his team fall to Boston for the sixth time in seven games over the last 11 days.
”A great ceremony. Great,” Rivera said. ”Well done. Humbling. At the same time, I definitely appreciate what the Red Sox organization did. I will never forget it.”
When the game turned into a rout, Rivera even took time to sign autographs for fans near the Yankees’ bullpen – at one time, signing the back of a young boy’s Rivera No. 42 shirt.
And when he walked in from the bullpen after the final out, the remaining fans cheered.
A quartet of cellos played what was certainly the classiest version of ”Enter Sandman” that ever graced a baseball diamond to start the ceremony before the final scheduled game at Fenway of his career.
The lengthy ceremony opened with the Red Sox needling the likely Hall of Famer for one of his career lowlights: the blown save in Game 4 of the 2004 AL championship series that allowed Boston to come back from a 3-0 deficit and advance to the World Series.
The Red Sox went on to win their first Series title in 86 years, and when they received their rings before the home opener against the Yankees the next year, Rivera was given a standing ovation.
Highlights of the appearance – one of just five postseason blown saves in Rivera’s 19-year career – were played on the scoreboard, with commentary from former Red Sox players Dave Roberts, Kevin Millar and Bill Mueller. Then the scoreboard flashed, ”But seriously …” and the accolades followed.
”Yeah, I felt it. I feel it the whole series, the fans,” he said when asked if he felt respect the trio from 2004 had for him. ”It was respect. Even the last hour in the bullpen, the fans standing up and clapping. It was great.”
Later, he even signed the bullpen wall.
”I can’t tell you (what I wrote),” he said, smiling. ”I was giving things. Thank you!”
The entire Red Sox team waited for Rivera in the infield, and Boston slugger David Ortiz greeted him with a big hug. In keeping with the tradition of Rivera’s farewell tour, the Red Sox gave him a team-signed No. 42 that hung on the Green Monster’s manual scoreboard whenever he came in to pitch.
He was also given the pitching rubber from the visitor’s bullpen and a painting of him tipping his hat to the crowd during the 2005 ring ceremony.
”It’s a blessing to me to play here for so many years,” Rivera told reporters outside the Yankees’ dugout before the game. ”To come here to play against the Red Sox at Fenway, it’s always a great game. But it’s never easy.”
Including playoffs, Rivera was 15-7 with 64 saves and a 2.59 ERA in 127 games against Boston in his 19-year career, starting with two innings of scoreless relief on Sept. 10, 1995. For him to face the Red Sox again – either at Yankee Stadium or at Fenway – both teams would have to make the playoffs.
”Hopefully it’s not the last time,” Rivera said before the game, when the Yankees were 11 1/2 games behind first-place Boston in the AL East and 2 1/2 games out in the wild-card race. ”We’re fighting for something. We want to get to the playoffs. I don’t have any thinking about myself.”
The 43-year-old Rivera has said he will retire after this season, his 19th in the major leagues, all of them with the Yankees. He has 651 career saves – tops in baseball history – with a 2.22 ERA and even the rival Red Sox called him the greatest closer in baseball history.
”What he’s done is remarkable,” Red Sox manager John Farrell said before the game. ”He’s a role model and I mean that in the greatest sense I can say it. Everyone should look up to his life.”