NEW YORK -- Andy Pettitte was the co-star of the most emotional moment seen at either Yankee Stadium in many years tonight, when he and Derek Jeter went to the mound to get Mariano Rivera with two outs in the ninth inning of the New York Yankees' 4-0 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays. It was a special moment for all three, but especially for Pettitte and Rivera, because over the past 19 years, Mo has saved 72 of Pettitte's 255 career wins, the most productive starter-closer tandem in baseball history.
That is why, when Pettitte reached the mound, Rivera pulled him into a bear hug and wouldn't let go, the tears streaming freely from Rivera's eyes, an incredibly intimate moment shared with nearly 50,000 live spectators and who knows how many more in front of televisions around the country.
"I don’t even know how to explain it because I wasn’t expecting it," Pettitte said. "There was so much emotion running through him, I guess, and I felt he didn’t want to let go so I just kept hugging him, so I just stayed with it. I was just gonna go with it as long as he wanted to stay out there."
Pettitte said he wasn't entirely on board with manager Joe Girardi's plan to have him and Jeter, both teammates with Rivera since 1995 and all members of five Yankee World Championship teams, remove Mo from the game -- "I was like, 'Oh, man, I don't know if that's a good idea, it might be a little weird'" -- but changed his opinion when the reality of what happened on that mound washed over him.
"But it was so cool, just so cool. It was a great moment," Pettitte said. "It was something that obviously I'll never forget."
Pettitte said that while Rivera was weeping, Pettitte was telling his longtime friend and teammate that he loved him and that it was an honor to have played alongside him. And, Pettitte admitted, an internal film loop of the highlights of his own distinguished Yankees career began playing in his own head.
"It all was going through my head," Pettitte said. "Everything we’ve done, all we’ve been through. It’s all been so special. It’s crazy how fast it went by, you know? It’s been really cool."
Pettitte, who is heading into retirement himself and will make his last career start Saturday against his former club, the Astros, in Houston, had his own moment of tribute when the crowd began chanting his name and his teammates urged him to take a curtain call. Pettitte was resistant to the idea until he noticed that the Tampa Bay Rays, in an impressive display of class and sportsmanship, were urging him out as well, and had no intention of taking the field until he had done so.
"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."