Monday, September 22, 2008
NEW YORK, Sept. 21 -- After all those championships in this celebrated place, all those unforgettable moments, the New York Yankees weren't about to be knocked out of the playoff race on a night like this.
Mariano Rivera finished what Babe Ruth started 85 years ago, and New York bid farewell to fabled Yankee Stadium with a 7-3 victory over Baltimore on Sunday night that prevented postseason elimination -- at least for a day.
Derek Jeter was pulled with two outs in the ninth inning and jogged off the field to a raucous cheer before coming out for a curtain call. When the game was over, he walked to the mound and addressed the crowd while surrounded by his teammates.
"We just want to take this moment to salute you, the greatest fans in the world," Jeter said.
Then the Yankees took a lap around the field, waving their caps to the fans as Frank Sinatra's "New York, New York" blared over the sound system one last time in this park.
Security officers got busy, too, with police on horseback lining the field to make sure treasured artifacts didn't start disappearing before the ballpark does.
A loss would have officially ended New York's run of 13 straight playoff appearances, and a Boston win Monday night against Cleveland would still do the trick. But on a beautiful Bronx night dripping with history and nostalgia, the Yankees refused to ruin the grand festivities.
Johnny Damon and Jose Molina homered to back Andy Pettitte (14-14), a fitting winner after he helped pitch New York to four World Series titles and six AL pennants from 1996 to 2003.
Joba Chamberlain worked 1 2/3 hitless innings and Rivera closed out the final regular season home game before New York moves next year into a $1.3 billion palace rising across the street.
So it ended as it should have, after the Babe opened the ballpark on April 18, 1923, with a home run in a 4-1 victory over the Red Sox that sent the Yankees on their way to the first of a record 26 World Series championships.
New York finished 4,133-2,430-17 at Yankee Stadium, originally built in 284 days for $2.5 million. It was the first sports venue to be called a stadium, the team noted.
"I feel like I'm losing an old friend," Reggie Jackson said. "I'm glad I was here."
Perhaps the only person missing was 78-year-old owner George Steinbrenner, who stayed in Florida to watch on television.
The 65-minute pregame ceremony began with a recorded message from longtime public address announcer Bob Sheppard, who has missed this season while recuperating from illness. Sheppard, who took the job in 1951, said he hopes to return next year at the new ballpark.
After a major remodeling in the mid-1970s, Yankee Stadium looks much different than it did when Lou Gehrig and Joe DiMaggio linked one dynasty to another decades ago.
But it's the same field, on the same ground -- and history has a heartbeat here.
"I think it was more the people than the stadium," former Yankees star Bernie Williams said. "People talk a lot about the magic and the aura, but what really made the stadium was the fans. Concrete doesn't talk back to you. Chairs don't talk back to you. It's the people that are there, that root for you day in and day out, that's what makes this place magical."