In an emotional pre-game ceremony, a litany of modern pinstriped legends joined a sellout crowd to say goodbye and give thanks to Rivera. However, the festivities seemed to transcend their singular purpose. In addition to fêting the immortal closer, Mariano Rivera Day turned into a celebration of an entire era. The loudest cheers were for Rivera, but the fans were also delirious at the site of David Cone, Paul O'Neill, Hideki Matsui, Bernie Williams and Jorge Posada. If only for a day, it was just like old times in the Bronx, a feeling that intensified when Andy Pettitte took the mound for the last time at Yankee Stadium.
Pettitte was so good for seven innings, it really seemed like the Yankees had turned back the clock. With the lefty going strong and Rivera lingering in the bullpen, the score may have been tied, but the outcome sure felt inevitable. Eventually, the ghosts would come to the rescue, just as they had so many times over the last 20 years. However, instead of being treated to late inning heroics, the eager crowd was witness to a clash between the greatness of the Yankees' past and the mediocrity that had defined the team all season.
Over the final three innings, the Yankees had several opportunities to take the lead, but in each instance, the weakness of the current roster would frustrate those clinging to their memories. There was no O'Neill. There was no Matsui. Bernie and Posada weren't coming to bat. Instead, the Yankees' fate rested with withering veterans, untested rookies, and other hitters of dubious ability. With a cast like that, is it any wonder Mystique and Aura are no longer appearing nightly in the Bronx?
Despite Rivera's and Pettitte's heroics, the Yankees lost 2-1, effectively extinguishing their already slim playoff aspirations. It was an ironic way to say goodbye to two players who have epitomized the team's dedication to winning. After the game, Pettitte lamented, "I really thought we'd have the magic to pull this one off." Most Yankee fans probably felt the same way, even those who knew they were fooling themselves.
The 2013 Yankees were not built to walk in the footsteps of the past. During the off season, the team's self avowed, unmitigated commitment to winning was made secondary to improving the bottom line. For the first time in nearly two decades, the franchise's mantra wasn't "World Series or bust". If that wasn't evident beforehand, on Mariano Rivera Day, the contrast between the organization's transitioning philosophy couldn't have been more clear, and the outlook for future more muddled.
To what exactly did the Yankees say goodbye to on Sunday: the past or the future? Will the franchise continue to cut costs at the expense of winning, or was yesterday's celebration a reminder to the front office that the team's cherished brand is only as great as the players who represent it? Until those questions are answered, it will be hard to fully appreciate the extent of yesterday's farewell.