Al Hirschfeld and his daughter, Nina.
Mariano Rivera didn’t look to have his best stuff last night. But with one out and a runner on first, he snagged a hard ground ball and quickly pivoted his body around to second base. In that instant I thought of the 2001 World Series, 9th inning, Game 7. That was when Rivera didn’t turn a double play. It wasn’t the worst performance of his career but it may have been the most painful as the Diamondbacks scored twice to win the Serious. I couldn’t sleep that night. I replayed the inning over and over. I wondered if a loss like that would break Rivera. It didn’t, of course. The Sandy Alomar home run in the 1997 ALDS didn’t, and neither did Game 4 and 5 of the 2004 ALCS against the Red Sox.
Now, it’s almost ten full years after the loss to the Diamonbacks and only a handful of players who appeared in the Serious are still active. None of them are performing on Rivera’s level. He’s embodiment of excellence, still graceful, a later day Fred Astaire as we like to think of him around these parts, and one of the most beautiful athletes in pro sports.
Rivera was quick enough to field the hard ground ball last night and he made a difficult throw to second base look easy. It was right on target. Cano caught it and threw to first in one smooth motion, in time for a game-ending double play. Close play. Yanks got the call.
The Yankee players smiled as they gathered to shake hands. Smiled at an old man who still has a few moments left. He was smiling too.
And so were we.