By Jason Keidel
They were members of our family, bookmarks in our lives.
We know where we were when Andy pitched that classic in Atlanta, where we sat when Mo slammed the door on San Diego in 1998, which parades we attended, Darryl’s cancer, Torre’s cancer, Doc’s no-hitter, Derek’s November homer, Tino’s grand slam, Cone going Don Larsen — on Yogi Berra Day, no less. And the immortal Mariano collapsing in prayer and gratitude on the mound in 2003, after tossing three iconic innings in Game 7 of the ALCS.
We remember when they were perfect. We remember when we were perfect with them.
But once the faerie dust blew off the montage, the last of the retirement toys were lavished, and the pitcher nonpareil rose from his rocking chair, reality began to dig in. There’s agony and irony to go around, low-hanging fruit for those who love and loathe the Yankees, those who will revile and rejoice in their suffering.
The pain will come next year, Joe Girardi said, when they pour out of the dugout and freckle the field without two bedrock members of the glory days. Haters have waited a decade for the day to come, when the money, the love, and the luck run dry on the Yankees. The rest have wrestled with the pristine precedent, whether this is finally 1965 redux.
Frankly, it feels more like 1983, after the Bronx Zoo finally withered away and gave way to the more macabre ’80s, a Wild West of rotating pitchers, sluggers, and yearly managers. It was King George at his bossy best, or worst, depending on your allegiance.
The first irony, of course, is that Pettitte and Rivera, the most potent pitching duet in baseball history, won’t leave the stage on their terms, or at least at their time, in October, when their high deeds came under brown leaves.
Pettitte has the most postseason wins (19) and Rivera has the most postseason saves, matching his uniform (42). Rivera has a laughable, 0.70 ERA, surrendering 86 hits in 141 innings, with 110 strikeouts and 21 walks. PlayStation stuff. The numbers, however, only frame a fraction of the narrative, the journey we took with them from young men to old men.
The other irony is that they still have game, and are leaving pitches on the mound, while the third graybeard, Derek Jeter, should join them. But, obdurate to the end, he won’t.
It would have been a most fitting, three-pronged salute. Sure, the jaded — heck, quite troubled — adult who has his dashboard cluttered with Jeter bobblehead dolls, his bedroom walls lathered with Jeter posters, and watches his “Yankeeography” collection wrapped in a No. 2 Snuggie, thinks the crumbling shortstop still has another 200-hit, Gold Glove season left in his brittle legs.
What he misses, among myriad moments in life, is the fact that Jeter could have not only left with dignity and decency and the memory of his last season being perhaps his best season, but also the symmetry of closing the Core Four shut for good. He belongs with his brethren. Instead, Jeter will stumble into 2014 flanked by strangers and, for the first time in his bejeweled career, begin a season as a decided underdog.
Rivera, who has provided more relief than the Red Cross, fetched four outs for Joe Girardi on Sunday. This after Pettitte dug deep into his quiver and hurled seven stellar innings, taking us one more time through the portal to the halcyon years, when September was merely a frosty funnel to the Fall Classic.
Then, as if to remind us that this isn’t 1998, the Yankees lost a game they had to win.
So the sad celebration ends. And while Rivera and Pettitte trot into the twilight with their resumes and legacies intact, the Yankees must plow through a most frigid winter, one with more variables and vacancies than we’ve seen in two decades.
Their ace, CC Sabathia, is coming off his worst year, with several mph coming off his fastball. And if Jeter and A-Rod are their premier players next season, the Yankees could be staring down the barrel of a baseball recession. Especially if Hank and Hal adhere to their newfound frugality, treating the $189 million salary cap like a financial firewall.
It’s altogether fitting and proper that Rivera wears the final 42. The symbolism is endless. Jackie Robinson immortalized it, and Rivera will retire it. I will be at Yankee Stadium on Wednesday with Sweeny Murti, because I must see him one more time. Because I won’t see anyone like him ever again. There will be other gifted lefties, other regal shortstops, other gripping Octobers.
But there will be no more monolith of the ninth inning like The Sandman: the laconic, iconic closer, who lived to scripture and listened to Gospel, who never heard the very band that serenaded his trademark jog to the mound.
Mostly I just want to shake his hand. I want to touch greatness.
Email Jason at Jakster0529@gmail.com and follow him on Twitter at @JasonKeidel
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