NEW YORK -- A bit dazed and confused, Mariano Rivera was muttering under his breath and wandering around the clubhouse looking for someone, or something, when Robinson Cano approached and patted him on the chest three times in a get-'em-next-time way.
Get 'em next time? Mariano Rivera doesn't get 'em next time; he gets them every time in big games and small games, May games and October games, interleague games and intracity games.
Just the thought of him out there in the bullpen, waiting and lurking, always had a devastating psychological effect on the opponent. "You had no chance," Billy Beane, the Moneyball master, once told me of the New York Yankees carrying a lead into the ninth. "You knew Rivera had the sickle in hand ready to get you."
He was ready to get the New York Mets on Tuesday night, just like he got them in the 2000 World Series when he closed down the clinching Game 5 at Shea. The Yanks were up 1-0 on Tuesday after surviving Matt Harvey's 10-strikeout, no-walk performance over eight, and all that was left was the coronation of the one and only Mo, king of Queens on a night when the Mets feted him with gifts and actually had him throw out the ceremonial first pitch.
"I know you usually throw out the last pitch," Jeff Wilpon, the Mets' chief operating officer, said. "But tonight you can throw the first pitch."
Rivera would end up throwing both. He received a call box from New York Fire Commissioner Salvatore Cassano, a hose nozzle from Wilpon and then a standing ovation from a Citi Field crowd when he took the mound near the end of a 91-minute rain delay. Rivera removed his cap and bowed as flashbulbs exploded around him, then tossed the ball to John Franco, who was generously introduced with Mo as "two of the greatest closers in baseball history."
It didn't matter if associating Franco with Rivera was like putting a club fighter in Sugar Ray Robinson's ring; the dignified Yankees closer would never consider such a thing a slight. Mo has been loving every stop on this retirement tour, anyway, loving his meetings with fans and employees in every town he visits, and this final journey to Flushing was no different.
"I wish we could see you in the World Series," Wilpon had said, "but I'm not sure that's going to happen this year."
The greatest closer of all time is so good at saving things, he even tried to save Wilpon. "You never know," he said.
Only, at the end of this night, Rivera would make history of an entirely different kind. He'd appeared in 1,071 regular-season games and saved a record 626 of them, but in his 19 seasons in the bigs, Rivera had never blown a save without recording a single out until he faced that hallowed Mets Murderers Row of Daniel Murphy, David Wright and Lucas Duda.
"It was a great game," Rivera would say at his locker, "until I got into the game."
Harvey, the former Yankees fan from Mystic, Conn., had made it great in a Subway Series appearance he likened to a fulfilled dream, and Hiroki Kuroda, a pro's pro, had made it great, too, shutting out the Mets over seven. It was another tense New York, New York event that saw Harvey slam his glove against the dugout rail after allowing the lone run in the sixth and that saw Terry Collins kick a base after getting ejected in the same inning.
Rivera, the Iceman, was supposed to tranquilize the Mets for the night after he appeared on the warning track at 11:28, then did his purposeful jog to the mound under another round of respectful cheers. The ceremony and rain delay had made it a long day for a 43 year old, but Rivera had always done his best work near the midnight hour. He'd faced 18 save opportunities this season and made good on all 18.
Murphy was up first, and he punched a 1-1 pitch down the left-field line and scrambled to second. Wright was up next, and he slapped a 2-0 pitch up the middle to score Murphy, a development so shocking that Rivera forget to back up his catcher, Chris Stewart, on the throw from Brett Gardner.
The ball kicked past Stewart, allowing Wright a free pass to second base. "I should be back there, but I wasn't," Rivera said. "It was my fault." Asked why a player of his experience and poise had forgotten to execute a fundamental part of his craft, Rivera hemmed and hawed before conceding, "You've got a good question. I don't know. I should be back there regardless if he catches it or not."
Suddenly, the closer who has spent his entire career overwhelming hitters with one pitch, the cutter, was the one being overwhelmed. Rivera knows how to slow down a game like few athletes do, but this time the Mets' fast break was too furious to tame.
By the time Duda arrived at the plate, Rivera was a beaten man. The question wasn't if the Mets would win, but how. And on a 1-1 count, Duda sent the kind of bloop over Cano's head that Arizona's Luis Gonzalez had sent over Derek Jeter's head to beat Rivera and win the 2001 World Series.
"I took a swing," Duda said, "and shattered my bat into 50 pieces."
As the Mets stormed the field in celebration, Rivera lowered his head and trudged toward the third-base dugout. He'd blown a save in spectacular fashion, blown it in nine pitches.
"I didn't want to thank them that way," Rivera said of the Mets.
He thanked his gracious hosts in a way they'll never forget.
"No excuses; they just beat me," Rivera said. "Kuroda pitched a tremendous game, and for me to do that is unacceptable. … But that's the game of baseball. I mean, anything can happen. I've been doing it for so many years, but it happened quick."
Too quick for a 43-year-old man to process. His last road game against the Mets wasn't supposed to go down like this, not after his meet-and-greet with their fans on Monday, and not after Jeff Wilpon told Rivera on Tuesday that his own son wore No. 42 in his honor after making the high school varsity as a freshman.
But the would-be king of Queens was indeed dethroned for a night. And when it was over, there wasn't much to say to Mariano Rivera but four words he's rarely heard.
Get 'em next time.