"I did miss them a lot," the 42-year-old Rivera said. "At the same time, I have to be patient. I couldn't push it, I couldn't rush it. I just had to do things right."
As he buzzed a cutter on the outside corner to freeze Red Sox rookie Jackie Bradley Jr. for the final out of the Yankees' 4-2 victory, Rivera chalked up career save No. 609 and moved further away from the right knee injury that prematurely ended his 2012 season.
"It's amazing. I always say I'm going to tell my kids, 'I caught Mariano Rivera,'" catcher Francisco Cervelli said. "I think it's one of the greatest moments I ever had in my career, because he is, and he is going to be, the best reliever I've ever seen in my life."
Andy Pettitte logged the victory, marking the Major League record 69th time that the dynamic duo have teamed in a win-save combination.
"Obviously I feel real, real secure and good about things whenever you see that guy running in from the bullpen in the ninth inning," Pettitte said. "It's special. It'll be special for me watching him this year and knowing that this is it."
Rivera entered the game to the familiar strains of Metallica's "Enter Sandman" and nearly had Dustin Pedroia rung up on a close two-strike pitch but didn't get a friendly call from umpire Mike DiMuro and walked Pedroia. Rivera said that there may have been some nerves in play.
"I would say so," Rivera said. "I'm not a pitcher that goes there and walks the first guy."
Rivera said his nerves settled when he got Mike Napoli to fly out to right field. Jonny Gomes doubled down the left-field line and Will Middlebrooks grounded out to push home Boston's second run, but Rivera sent Bradley back to the bench on three pitches to secure the save.
"You wait for almost a year to be on the mound and get your job done," Rivera said. "It's special to be here at home. The love, the passion and drive that you have for the game motivated me to keep going."
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @bryanhoch and read his MLBlog, Bombers Beat. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.