- Associated Press - Friday, July 16, 2010

NEW YORK (AP) - Mariano Rivera laid two long-stemmed red roses across home plate. Tears filled Joe Girardi’s eyes. Derek Jeter’s face was flush with emotion.

As fans stood through “Taps” and a 2-minute moment of silence, the 27 World Series championship flags that George Steinbrenner cherished with all his might could be heard flapping at half-staff toward center field from the top of Yankee Stadium in the stiff breeze.

The New York Yankees celebrated the life of “The Boss” with a solemn 15-minute pregame tribute Friday night that included an vivid remembrance from Jeter, spoken to the crowd of 47,524 from behind the plate before. New York then paid tribute by rallying to beat Tampa Bay 5-4 on Nick Swisher’s ninth-inning single.

“We definitely wanted to win that game,” Swisher said. “That was definitely his day.”

Steinbrenner, the team’s driving and blustery owner, died Tuesday, two days after the death of Bob Sheppard, Yankee Stadium’s longtime public-address announcer. New York returned home following the All-Star break to mark what both meant to a franchise obsessed with its tradition.

“We gather here tonight to honor two men who were both shining stars in the Yankee universe,” Jeter said as teammates and the Rays stood ramrod straight, caps off, in front of their dugouts. “Both men, Mr. George Steinbrenner and Mr. Bob Sheppard, cared deeply about their responsibilities to this organization and to our fans, and for that, will be forever remembered in baseball history and in our hearts.”

The new ballpark, opened last year in one of Steinbrenner’s final acts, could not have been quieter. Yankees executives in business suits watched somberly from behind the plate.

“Simply put,” Jeter said, “Mr. Steinbrenner and Mr. Sheppard both left this organization in a much better place than when they first arrived. They’ve set the example for all employees of the New York Yankees to strive to follow.”

Steinbrenner died of a heart attack at age 80 after 37 1/2 years as owner of America’s most famous team. Sheppard, whose elegant and booming introductions gave old Yankee Stadium its voice from 1951-07, was 99 when he died. In his honor, there were no introductions of batters during Friday night’s game, and the often-obtrusive music that punctuates evenings in the Bronx went silent.

Known throughout most of his tenure for lavishing record contracts on free agents and then badgering many through front-page headlines, Steinbrenner mellowed in his final decade and became beloved for the team’s success and his enormous generosity.

His funeral was scheduled for Saturday in Tampa, Fla., and was to be private. More ceremonies were to take place Saturday at Old-Timers Day, and public memorials were under discussion for later dates in Florida and New York.

Throughout the day, an impromptu tribute unfolded at the main entrance behind home plate, where the famous interlocking “NY” logo is etched in stone. Bouquets, memorial candles, newspaper clippings, hats, jerseys and souvenirs of World Series titles were placed there in tribute, along with one old baseball.

Yankees fan Peter Goldschmidt teared up.

George was always like, for me, Santa Claus. He always brought me what I wanted,” said the 46-year-old from New Milford, N.J. “Free agents, World Series championships, a new stadium. Whatever the fans wanted, he brought us.”

Wreaths were placed on each side of the Steinbrenner statue inside the team office entrance in left field, and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani was among those who filed past. A wreath also was placed next to Sheppard’s plaque in Monument Park, behind the center-field fence.

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