The gifts from the Red Sox, including the donation to Mariano Rivera’s charitable causes in his native Panama, were all nice as the Sox paid tribute before Sunday night’s game to Rivera’s tremendous career. But was “roasting” the retiring Yankees closer for the 2004 postseason, perhaps the lowest moment in Rivera’s career, appropriate?
In the eyes of the beholder, we suppose.
A few Yankees officials and media members we asked right after the ceremony had some raised eyebrows.
“It looked like more of a tribute to the 2004 Red Sox than to Mariano,” said one Yankees scribe.
“Did you think they rubbed in 2004 a little bit too much?” asked one Yankees official.
The Red Sox showed video of the sequence of events leading up to and after Dave Roberts’s steal of second base in the ninth inning of Game 4 of the ’04 American League Championship Series. They had video of Kevin Millar going over his at-bat, in which Rivera threw four straight balls. Roberts pinch ran and the Sox showed video of three throws to first base before Roberts stole second under Derek Jeter’s tag. Then Bill Mueller’s single up the middle, which scored Roberts and turned the fortunes of the series in Boston’s favor, was shown.
The Red Sox certainly didn’t mean any harm, but if it was even slightly perceived as being disrespectful it probably shouldn’t have happened. Rivera handled it with the same “grace and class” that the Red Sox did mention throughout the “roast.”
This was the organization one would think would have hit a home run with a Rivera tribute; instead one was left wondering whether the 2004 theme was the right one to choose.
The Red Sox also showed video of the 2005 Opening Day ring-ceremony crowd giving Rivera a standing ovation and Rivera responding with a big smile and raising his hands. A painting of that moment was one of the gifts presented to Rivera by David Ortiz.
“It was great,” said Rivera before the game when asked about that Opening Day reception. “Hey, they won. You know? We don’t give it to them; I didn’t give it to them. They won.”
Rivera received a standing ovation from the crowd Sunday night, but it left one wondering . . . were the cheers for 2004 or his body of work? Certainly master of ceremonies Dave O’Brien mentioned all the great things, but the videoboard showed all good Red Sox things at the expense of Rivera.
O’Brien did set it up at the start when he said this was “less of a toast and more of a roast.”
The other gifts were well-thought out.
Koji Uehara presented him with the bullpen rubber. Dustin Pedroia gave him the No. 42 placard, a piece of the scoreboard with his number on it signed by all the players. Jon Lester presented him a 1934 blue seat from Fenway and gave a reminder that No. 42 never will be issued again after Rivera since the number has been retired everywhere in baseball in honor of Jackie Robinson. The number was grandfathered for Rivera.
The entire Red Sox team gathered around a makeshift podium around the mound, where the tables of gifts were covered with cloth and unveiled one-by-one. Rivera shook hands and hugged many of the Sox players behind him during the ceremony. He shook hands with Sox owners John Henry, Tom Werner, CEO Larry Lucchino, general manager Ben Cherington, and manager John Farrell.
The Boston Cello Quartet played “Enter Sandman” as he exited. Amid the awkward theme there were such nice touches that Rivera appeared touched by. He didn’t address the crowd, but before the game he professed his love for the time he spent in the ballpark.
When asked before the game about the Red Sox’ plans to honor him, he said, “It’s different. Let’s put it that way. I’m humbled and honored and I appreciate what they’re doing.”
After the Red Sox’ 9-2 victory, Rivera was asked if the ’04 theme was too much, he said, “No, they deserved it.”
Jeter, who may one day receive similar treatment around the league, said of the ’04 theme, “I’m sure Mariano could remind them of a few things, but I thought it was funny.”
Rivera has appeared 55 times at Fenway, saving 36 games. He made his Fenway debut July 16, 1996, a two-inning appearance.
Rivera didn’t pitch Sunday night, but he did write on the bullpen wall, “Thanks for everything.”
“You come here to play against the Red Sox in Fenway, it’s always great games,” he said beforehand. “It’s never easy. It’s not. Big moments, big games, every game means something. The games are spectacular. I always take this opportunity to remember where 19 years I played against the Red Sox. Trying to do my job, it’s not easy.”
The Red Sox always played him the toughest probably because they played him the most.
“It’s a blessing,” Rivera said of playing at Fenway. “Hopefully it’s not the last time. It’s a blessing to be here for so many years. It has been wonderful.” The Yankees are three games out in the wild-card race.
Manager Joe Girardi has been trying to talk the 43-year-old out of retirement because he’s still good. But Rivera said he made up his mind a long time ago that this was going to be it.
There were plenty of flattering comments, too, on the video, from Roberts, Millar, and Mueller.
And there were nice comments from other ex-Red Sox players such as Curt Schilling, who may have summed up Rivera’s career best when he said, “I think he’s the greatest professional athlete at his position, in my lifetime. Brady and Montana at QB, Rose as a hitter, LeBron as a basketball player, Crosby or Gretzky in hockey. I think Mo was better than anyone in any sport at his job.”
“What I will remember,” added Schilling, “is the class and dignity that he carried himself with. He was the one player in this bitter rivalry that fans on both sides had immense respect for. If I had to pick a moment it would be him getting a standing ovation on Opening Day 2005, in Fenway, when we got our rings, he handled it so well.”
And he handled the “roast” very well, too. One of the greatest players ever to play the game tipped his cap to all corners of Fenway after the ceremony.
Exit Sandman.Nick Cafardo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo.