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Alyson Footer

Astros give Rivera a fitting sendoff in Houston

Astros give Rivera a fitting sendoff in Houston

HOUSTON -- Mariano Rivera's career on the field ended with his dramatic farewell at Yankee Stadium on Thursday, but on Sunday, he was saluted one last time, far away from his home ballpark.

Rivera has never pitched in a regular-season game at Minute Maid Park, but that's where his team was ending its season. In turn, it made it possible for a packed stadium -- a mix of Yankees fans and Astros fans -- to pay homage to the undisputed greatest closer of all time, hours before his stellar career was to come to a close.

Rivera, the last to speak during an elaborate on-field presentation attended by, among others, former Yankees manager Joe Torre and former teammate Roger Clemens, opened his remarks by apologizing to the Houston fans. On Saturday, Rivera informed reporters he would not pitch in any of the two remaining games, citing a desire for his emotional exit at his home ballpark to be his last time on the field. Rivera is also dealing with some physical pain that he felt unnecessary to pitch through, given the Yankees' non-playoff positioning as the season winds down.

"I want to make sure to apologize to the Houston Astros players and the great fans in Houston, because I couldn't compete my last three days of the season," he said. "I apologize for that.

"I want to leave with the game I played at Yankee Stadium on Thursday -- I want to keep that memory of mine. For that, I apologize. You guys deserved more, but I'm being a little selfish."

Judging from the crowd reaction, there was no need for the mea culpa. With both teams watching from their respective dugouts, Rivera was roundly cheered throughout the ceremony, which began with retired Astros radio announcer Milo Hamilton delivering some brief opening remarks before handing the mic to Torre.

"I started managing the Yankees in 1996 and I was there for 12 years," Torre said. "Trust me, you don't get a chance to manage for George Steinbrenner for 12 years unless you have someone like this coming out of the bullpen."

Torre rehashed what most already know about Rivera -- that he's an unselfish and friendly team player who brought out the best in everyone.

"When somebody came into our clubhouse who came from another team or from the Minor Leagues and looked like he was out of place somewhat, Mariano would go over and put his arm around him," Torre said. "Players were made to feel welcome by Mo.

"The thing I'm going to miss now when I'm watching games is the fact that you always tuned in to watch Mariano when he ran out of that bullpen. Every single player that he played with has been touched in a positive way."

Next up was Clemens, who played with Rivera from 1999-03 and again in 2007.

"Incredible," Clemens said. "Incredible person, incredible teammate. Nobody wants to see him go. There are not many sure things in this world. But when we saw you coming in from [the bullpen], that's as close as you're going to get."

The Astros, represented on the field by general manager Jeff Luhnow and team president Reid Ryan, then unveiled a painting for Rivera, created by sports artist Opie Otterstad, that depicted Rivera in all stages of his career.

Prior to the ceremony, several Yankees players met with Pro Football Hall of Famer and Houston Oilers legend Earl Campbell, who made the trip from his home in Austin, Texas, to attend the Rivera ceremony and watch the finale between the Astros and Yankees.

Campbell, who was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1991, collects signed jerseys, mostly from football players. That collection expanded to baseball after Campbell met with Rivera, Andy Pettitte, Alex Rodriguez, C.C. Sabathia and Derek Jeter in the visiting clubhouse minutes before the on-field ceremony for Rivera began.

"I want to know how you did this for 19 years," Campbell said to Rivera.

"Only by mercy of the Lord," Rivera replied.

Rivera showed Campbell (at Campbell's request) how he holds the baseball while throwing his famous cutter.

"Show him the sinker," Rodriguez said to Rivera. "That's the money pitch right there."

Campbell, whose body took a beating during his Hall of Fame career and has debilitating physical issues today because of the numerous hits to his body, asked Pettitte, "How do you guys in baseball know when it's time to say goodbye? What clicks?"

"I knew I had enough," Pettitte said. "My family situation and that dynamic is huge. My kids are getting older and they're not up there [in New York] with me.

"When you can't perform at the level you want to perform at, it's just a good time. I'm 41. It's time to go."

Alyson Footer is a national correspondent for MLB.com. Follow her on Twitter @alysonfooter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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