By RONALD BLUM
NEW YORK — Mariano Rivera said goodbye to Yankee Stadium with hugs, tears and cheers.
Baseball’s most acclaimed relief pitcher made an emotional exit in his final appearance in the Yankees’ home pinstripes, when captain Derek Jeter and Andy Pettitte came to the mound to remove him with two outs in the ninth inning of a 4-0 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays on Thursday night.
“It’s time to go,” Jeter appeared to tell Rivera.
During four minutes of thunderous chanting from the sellout crowd 48,675, an overcome Rivera sobbed as he buried his head on the right shoulder of Pettitte, who also is retiring when the season ends Sunday. Pettitte gave Rivera and 30-second bear hug, and Jeter followed with a 15-second embrace.
Rivera, who turns 44 in November, said he had trouble controlling himself on the mound during the ninth inning for the first time since he left Panama and embarked on a professional baseball career in 1990.
“I was bombarded with emotions and feeling that I couldn’t describe,” he said after the game, flanked by his wife and three sons. “Everything hit at that time. I knew that was the last time. Period. I never felt like that before.”
Yankees manager Joe Girardi, his voice cracking from emotion after the game, said he conceived the idea in the eighth inning.
“I’ve never seen a player pull another player, so I had to ask. And then one of them was on the DL,” he said.
Girardi asked plate umpire Laz Diaz before the ninth, and Diaz consulted with crew chief Mike Winters.
“Then I said, ‘Well, can I send two?’ and they said, ‘Well, go ahead.’ And I really appreciate because I think it made the moment even more special for Mo.”
At first, Pettitte didn’t think it was a good idea. Then he got to the mound and quickly decided “it was awfully cool.” The three players have known each other since they were in the minors in 1990, and all three came up to the Yankees for the first time in 1995.
“I didn’t say anything at first, and I didn’t expect for him to be quite so emotional,” Pettitte said. “He broke down and just gave me a bear hug and I just bear-hugged him back. He was really crying. He was weeping, and I could feel him crying on me.”
Rivera had retired Delmon Young, Sam Fuld, Jose Lobaton and Yunel Escobar on 13 pitches — the overall 465th perfect outing of his career. He had gone to the trainer’s room in the Yankees clubhouse after the top of the eighth instead of remaining in the dugout.
“Everything started hitting from there. All the flashbacks from the minor leagues to the big leagues, all the way to this moment,” he said.
When he walked off the mound for the final time with two outs in the top of the ninth in the famous, final scene, he wiped his eyes with both arms and blew a kiss to the first row behind the Yankees dugout. He hugged a tearful Girardi in the dugout, grabbed a towel to dab his own tears, and came out again and doffed his cap to the crowd. All the while, the Rays remained in their dugout applauding.
“”I thought it was pretty cool. I’ve never taken a pitcher out before,” Jeter said.
“We’ve all grown up together,” he said. “It’s too bad good things have to come to an end.”
Throughout the stands, fans blinked back their own tears.
And after Rivera came off, Pettitte came out for his own curtain call as the Rays waited in their dugout, not wanting to interrupt the moment. Rays manager Joe Maddon is a longtime fan of Rivera’s consistency, durability and quiet humility.
“It’s got to be what it was like to watch (Joe) DiMaggio’s hitting streak, only longer,” he said, impressed by both Rivera’s accomplishments and the ceremony. “They know how to do things here. They’re great at pomp and circumstance in this place.”
After the last out, Rivera remained on the bench for a moment as Frank Sinatra’s recording of “New York, New York” played.
He then took a last walk to the mound, a man alone, rubbing his feet on the rubber, kneeling and gathering a bit of his workplace as a keepsake.
“I wanted to get some dirt, just stay there for the last time, knowing that I ain’t going to be there no more, especially pitching,” he said. “Maybe throw a first pitch one year, one day. But competing — won’t be there no more. So that little that I was there was special for me.”
Rivera had entered with one out and two on in the eighth to a recorded introduction by Bob Sheppard, the longtime Yankees public address announcer who died three years ago.
Fans stood, applauded and chanted his name as he jogged in from the bullpen to Metallica’s “Enter Sandman” and continued for two minutes as he took his warmups. The entire Tampa Bay bench emptied and stood on the dirt warning track in front of the dugout and applauded.
Fans remained on their feet, chanting his name as he got two quick outs on six pitches. It was his first appearance since the Yankees retired his No. 42 during a 50-minute ceremony Sunday.
Eliminated from playoff contention, the Yankees finish the season with three games in Houston.
The oldest player in the major leagues, Rivera posted 314 of his record 652 saves at home during a 19-year big league career, and 18 of his record 42 postseason saves were at the old and new Yankee Stadium.
Rivera helped the Yankees to five World Series titles, getting the final out in four of them.
He’ll remember the home finale along with the titles.
“It was amazing. A great, great night,” he said and then paused. “We lost. I don’t know how I’d be saying that.”
NOTES: Matt Daley is sure to be the answer to a future trivia question — he was the pitcher who relieved Rivera. … Rivera had not entered a game with the Yankees trailing by four runs or more since May 20, 2008, against Baltimore, according to STATS. … The Yankees drew an AL-high 3,279,589, their lowest in five seasons at new Yankee Stadium and down from 3.54 million last year. Their average of 40,488 was their lowest since 40,346 in 2000, according to STATS. The Yankees had just seven sellouts. … New York hit 75 home runs at Yankee Stadium, its lowest home total since 75 in 1997. … Girardi wouldn’t comment on an ESPN report that Cano, who is eligible for free agency, is seeking a 10-year deal worth a record $305 million. … Bothered by sore legs, 3B Alex Rodriguez didn’t play. … Tampa Bay won its seventh straight and lowered to two its magic number over Texas for clinching an AL wild-card berth. The Rays swept this three-game series, outscoring the Yankees 19-3. … Alex Cobb (11-3) took a one-hit shutout into the eighth, retiring 15 in a row between walks to Curtis Granderson in the second and Robinson Cano in the seventh. He wound up allowing three hits in seven innings-plus. … Evan Longoria hit an RBI single in the fourth against Ivan Nova (9-6) and a two-run single off Dellin Betances in the eighth. Young hit a long solo homer to left-center in the sixth. … New York has lost nine of 12, including four in a row, and at 82-77 will have its fewest wins in a non-shortened season since 1992.