Rivera recorded the final out in the history of the Bronx's storied Cathedral on Sunday, inducing a ground ball to first base that put the finishing touches on a 7-3 decision against the Baltimore Orioles, ensuring that Yankee Stadium went out the same fashion it came in -- with a win.
"It was emotional -- it was a great night," Rivera said. "It's something that I'll never forget. I was thankful for the opportunity to be on the mound for the last out."
The Stadium's last batter was Brian Roberts, who chopped a tight shot down the first-base line. Cody Ransom gloved the ball and ran it to the bag himself, handing the ball off almost immediately to Rivera for safekeeping. The longtime closer said that he was holding it for Yankees principal owner George M. Steinbrenner, who watched the final game from home in Florida.
"I'm going to give it to George," Rivera said. "He deserves it. He's the one that put this team together. He deserves it and more than that."
A dying Ruth told fans in a farewell address: "I'm very proud to have hit the first home run in Yankee Stadium. God knows who'll hit the last one."
Sixty years later, Jose Molina answered the question, clubbing a two-run homer in the fourth inning that turned out to be the last one.
Johnny Damon also connected on a three-run homer for the Yankees, who backed starter Andy Pettitte through five-plus innings as the left-hander -- a stalwart of the club's recent championship dynasty -- went into the books as the final winning pitcher.
Following his blueprint of removing Pettitte mid-inning to provide him with an ovation from the crowd of 54,610, manager Joe Girardi trotted to the mound after the left-hander allowed a leadoff single to Ramon Hernandez. Pettitte walked off to the Yankees' dugout, waving his cap, and was called back out for a curtain call as the fans chanted his name once more.
"It was great -- it was very special," Pettitte said. "I appreciate the fans so much here. They've always been so great for me. It's very unusual -- I wasn't going to go out there, but some of the guys said to do it. I said, 'What the heck?' It's going to be right up there, as far as special nights."
Apropos for the occasion, Damon gave the Yankees the lead in the third inning, taking advantage of the short right field porch with a three-run homer. Damon's shot off Chris Waters was his 16th of the season, setting off a scramble in the first few rows of the same area where Ruth might have taken aim.
Yankee Stadium career leaders
|Career home runs|
|Wins by visiting pitcher|
"It's at the top," Damon said. "I know I've had some big home runs here, but being able to close out the stadium -- I have no regrets whatsoever about donning the pinstripes. I'm happy I got to enjoy this day."
The Orioles got the deficit back against Pettitte in the fourth, as Kevin Millar singled, moved up on a hit and scored on Roberts' single to right field. Molina -- a 33-year-old backup catcher -- connected in the home half for his third home run of the year, a two-run shot that landed on top of the netting covering Monument Park.
"It feels great," Molina said. "I feel happy. It's one of those things you're going to remember for the rest of your life."
Jose Veras relieved and recorded the first two outs before issuing a two-out walk to pinch-hitter Oscar Salazar. Rookie Phil Coke struck out Roberts swinging to end the threat, stranding two men aboard, and recorded one more out before Joba Chamberlain hurled 1 2/3 innings to get the ball to Rivera for the ninth inning.
Pettitte, the second-winningest pitcher at the remodeled Stadium to Ron Guidry (99), threw 85 pitches over his five-plus innings of work, allowing three runs (two earned) while walking one and striking out three.
His swinging strikeout of Hernandez opening the second inning gave him 2,000 for his career, and later, the left-hander acknowledged that this game was as much a must-win as any he had pitched.
"It almost felt like a playoff series that we just won, as far as how tired I am right now," Pettitte said.
Waters, the final opposing starter in Yankee Stadium history, was charged with five runs on six hits in 5 2/3 innings, walking four and striking out two. New York added two runs in the seventh to pad the lead as Jason Giambi blooped a soft RBI single into short left and Robinson Cano added a sacrifice fly.
Giambi, a veteran who will be a free agent after the season, said that he has already asked for his Yankee Stadium locker to be shipped to his home and reflected sentimentally on his seven years in pinstripes.
"This is a place where men become children and think about their heroes, and where children always remember as men," Giambi said. "It gets passed on from generation to generation about how these memories live on."
The game was preceded by a stirring ceremony in which the club paid homage to the rich history of baseball at the facility, inviting numerous legends and their family members to attend. The Yankees completed play at Yankee Stadium in the 85-year-old ballpark's 6,580th game, securing their 4,133rd all-time win. New York lost 2,430 of those contests, posting 17 ties.
Yankee Stadium's all-time hits leader -- with 1,274 -- Jeter went 0-for-5 with two strikeouts in his final game and was pulled defensively with two outs remaining in the ninth inning so he could receive an ovation.
But Jeter came through with the evening's capper as he delivered a rousing and semi-impromptu speech from the pitcher's mound, surrounded by his teammates and speaking of the honor of wearing the Yankees uniform.
Speaking of Yankee Stadium, Jeter said, "There's a lot of tradition, a lot of history, and a lot of memories. Now the great thing about memories is you're able to pass it along from generation to generation.
"And although things are going to change next year, we're going to move across the street, there are a few things with the New York Yankees that never change -- it's pride, it's tradition, and most of all, we have the greatest fans in the world."
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.