It was the start of the long goodbye for baseball’s greatest closer.
Dressed in a dark jersey top and pinstriped uniform pants, Rivera announced what already had leaked out in prior days: This will be his 19th and final major league season.
And the 43-year-old has a clear vision of how he wants his career to end.
“The last game I hope will be throwing the last pitch in the World Series,” he said. “Winning the World Series, that would be my ambition.”
Rivera said he made the decision before arriving at spring training. With the entire Yankees‘ team looking on _ including longtime teammates Derek Jeter and Andy Pettitte _ Rivera said he knew the time was right for his decision. Rivera sat a table and team officials, led by managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner and manager Joe Girardi, sat nearby.
“I have just a few bullets left,” he said.
He then made his first game appearance since April 30, throwing 15 pitches during a 1-2-3 fifth inning against Atlanta. Looking like his overpowering self of old, Rivera retired Dan Uggla on a popup to second, then threw called third strikes past Juan Francisco and Chris Johnson.
“It was great to be on the mound again,” Rivera said with a big smile.
Rivera jogged onto the field from the right-field bullpen to a standing ovation as Metallica’s “Enter Sandman” was played, then left the mound to another loud ovation. He called the whole day “overwhelming.”
“It’s wonderful,” Rivera said. “I can’t ask for more than that.”
With a dominating cut fastball few batters have figured out, Rivera holds the career saves record with 608 and has helped the Yankees win five World Series titles. He combined with Jeter, Pettitte and Jorge Posada to form the Yankees‘ Core Four.
“We just have a special relationship,” Pettitte said. “I don’t know how to explain it. Obviously, when you spent as much time together after as many years as we’ve been together, you just kind of grow a little closer to one another than you would with other teammates. He’s always been there for me.”