Every New Yorker has his Mariano moment. For some it was the first save, when the powerful Panamanian stepped up to the mound in the spring of 1996 and closed out the win for the first time. For some it was his 602nd save when he broke the all time saves record. Or the debut of “the cutter” as the new pitch in baseball. Or for others it may have been just last night when fellow “Core Four” members Andy Pettitte and Derek Jeter relieved Rivera in one of the most affecting moments in the history of the game. There are 652 saves to choose from.
Yet as the Great Closer closes out his career the moment we find ourselves reflecting on was one of defeat — November 4, 2001. It was a game that was meant to be the redemption of a broken city. Two months after September 11, the Yankees were looking to raise their city from the ashes. Fittingly, the stage was set for this rebirth in a city called Phoenix. The job of Yankees was simple: remind the world that New York is the strongest city, despite the terrorist attack. There was no better way to do that than to have New York’s favorite sports team win the World Series.
In the ninth inning, it seemed as though the Yankees would win. The score was 2-1 and lights-out Mo, who was already famous for his postseason heroics, was walking to the mound. The world was holding its breath for the Yankees’ fourth consecutive World Series title. But that title would never belong to New York. Rivera gave up two runs in the bottom of the ninth. The second was on walk-off single by Luis Gonzalez, and it was over. It was all over. The Arizona Diamondbacks won. Even more importantly, the New York Yankees lost.
Footage taken immediately after the game flashes to the face of Derek Jeter sitting in the dugout looking more depressed and forlorn than any Yankees fan had ever seen. It was all over. New York hadn’t risen to reclaim the pedestal. The Yankees weren’t in first place so they might as well have been in last. It’s hard to imagine a more miserable moment, when baseball hero and ordinary citizen were so steeped in defeat. We kept thinking of what it must have been like for Mariano.
It’s odd for to find ourselves, with the long ovation from yesterday still in our ears, thinking of that moment. But sometimes it seems that one has to test the depths in order to prepare for the long climb to glory. It seemed like the fate of the city was echoed in the fate of the closer. All the greater his long climb to immortality. Each save for Rivera became a save for New York. That is something for which New York will be forever grateful. He is one of the greatest New Yorkers of all time but it was in the moment of his most painful defeat that we felt closest to him.