Mo-ment No.1: What else could it be?

December, 25, 2013
12/25/13
10:00
AM ET
Mariano RiveraWilliam Perlman/THE STAR-LEDGER via USA TODAY SportsMariano Rivera's storied career ended in storybook fashion.
Andrew Marchand and I came up with our three most memorable months of the New York Yankees' 2013 season. No. 3 was the day Alex Rodriguez was suspended for a record 211-games, and yet returned to the Yankees on Aug. 5 in Chicago. No. 2 was the night at Fenway when Ryan Dempster drilled A-Rod, a near-brawl ensued, and A-Rod ultimately responded with a home run as the Yankees rallied for what looked like an important win. But the No. 1 moment of the season, we both agreed, came on Sept. 26, in a game the Yankees would go on to lose to the Tampa Bay Rays:

Considering the nature of the 2013 season, it should not be surprising that the most memorable moment came not in the course of game action, but during a pitching change. Then again, the sight of Mariano Rivera leaving the mound at Yankee Stadium for the last time, led back to the dugout by his long-time teammates and friends Derek Jeter and Andy Pettitte, might have been the most memorable moment of any Yankee season in recent history.

That night, I wrote it was "the most emotional moment seen at Yankee Stadium in many years'', and in the Rapid Reaction I called it the modern-day equivalent of the famous Lou Gehrig "Luckiest Man" speech on July 4, 1939, after he had been forced to retire after having been stricken with ALS. Some readers correctly pointed out that Mo's retirement was in no way comparable to Gehrig's tragic death, although I meant to compare the two events in terms of their emotional impact on the crowd.

There was hardly a dry eye in the ballpark as Rivera, his body wracked with sobs, pulled Pettitte into a bear hug and wouldn't let go for what seemed like an eternity. But then, Mo had saved a major-league record 72 of Pettitte's 255 career wins and the two share a bond seldom seen in professional sports. Pettitte. who would pitch his final game Houston two days later, said, "It was just great," Pettitte said. "I don’t need anything else. I just feel so fortunate to have been out there and been a part of this weekend; the last few days have been incredible."

The tears were still flowing an hour later at the post-game press conference, as Joe Girardi, who coordinated Mo's heart-tugging exit on the fly, and, finally, Mo, took their turns at the podium.

"I don't know how I got those last few guys out. I don't know what I was doing," said Rivera, who revealed he needed a trip to the trainer's room to compose himself between the eighth and ninth innings. "Everything started hitting -- all the flashbacks, everything that led to this moment ... I was just bombarded with emotions. It was amazing, amazing. Spectacular."

And for one night, it no longer seemed to matter that the Yankees had lost the game, 4-0, or that there would be no October baseball for the Yankees this season, since they had been eliminated the night before, or that, from that night on, Yankee Stadium ninth innings would never be the same.

In a season filled with moments best left unremembered, Mariano Rivera gave us all one more moment never to be forgotten.
Wallace Matthews has covered New York sports since 1983 as a reporter, columnist, radio host and TV commentator. He covers the Yankees for ESPNNewYork.com after working for Newsday, the New York Post, the New York Sun and ESPN New York 98.7 FM.
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TEAM LEADERS

BA LEADER
Brett Gardner
BA HR RBI R
.285 8 36 54
OTHER LEADERS
HRM. Teixeira 17
RBIM. Teixeira 47
RB. Gardner 54
OPSM. Teixeira .805
WM. Tanaka 12
ERAM. Tanaka 2.51
SOM. Tanaka 135