If you’re reading this column, that means Sunday night’s Red Sox/Yankees game finally ended. In this case, on the power of Mike Napoli’s 11th inning walk-off blast, which gave the Sox an 8-7 victory and a 2-1 edge in their weekend series against the Artist Formerly Known as the Bombers.
Up next for Boston, their biggest test of the season (so far): A four-game tilt against the Tampa Bay Rays, the hottest team in baseball, and a squad that currently trails the Sox by only a game and a half in the AL East.
But before we get there, ladies and gentlemen, a quick round of applause for Mariano Rivera!
He plays so fine. Don’t you agree?
But seriously. Come on now. This time with feeling.
Let’s hear it for MARIANO RIVERA!
In the midst of this weekend’s rivalry, it was impossible to ignore Boston’s outpouring of love and respect for the Yankees legendary closer. Rivera received a standing ovation from the crowd as he made his way out to the bullpen on Friday night. He received another when he trotted out to the bullpen on Saturday, and another as he emerged to save the game later that afternoon. On Saturday night, Rivera reportedly had dinner at Abe & Louie’s on Newbury Street, and when he walked in, everyone stood up and cheered; when he departed after the meal, everyone stood up and cheered.* Rivera received another standing ovation has he made his way out to the bullpen on Sunday, and surely would have received another had Joe Girardi not inexplicably left him on the pine in extra innings. (*I can only imagine the response he received during his mid-dinner bathroom break: “Yeahhh, Mo! You the man! Give it to that urinal cake! Show it who’s the boss!”)
Over three days, Rivera received more Fenway cheers than he has in the previous 18 years combined, and there’s little mystery as to why. After all, this was Mo’s first public appearance of any kind since serving as the crown prince of the 2013 All Star Game, an event that kicked the Rivera Farewell Tour into full gear, and set off what will be three months of non-stop applause as he makes his final lap around the big leagues. It won’t be long before this thing morphs into the second coming of Kareem Abdul-Jabaar in 1989 (except in Detroit, where Kareem was ejected by Billy Crystal), and Rivera’s showered with gifts and given keys to cities. It’s the beginning of a stretch in baseball history that will transcend allegiance and fandom, and likely overshadow what’s shaping up to be a disappointing summer and fall for the Yanks.
Still, the weekend love fest didn’t sit so well with all Sox fans. While most everyone was on board with the initial applause Rivera received on Friday, frustration began to build with every passing ovation; especially on Saturday, when the crowd rose to its feet as Rivera set out to slam the door on Boston in the middle of this surprising pennant race. There were some who saw that as an insult to the rivalry; a bad look for Boston: A standing ovation for Mariano Rivera?! At Fenway?! In the middle of a game?! WITH THE SOX FIGHTING FOR FIRST PLACE?!?!
My first reaction to those folks was simply: “Chill out.” After all, that’s one of the benefits of being a Boston sports fan in this day and age. We don’t have to be so angry about everything. That underlying sense of terror and bitterness no longer exists, in any sport. In recent years, Boston’s a city that’s gained perspective, a better appreciation for what greatness truly is, and there’s no question that Mariano Rivera pretty much defines it. Aren’t we advanced enough as a society to be able to give an ovation without conceding a desire to see the Red Sox comeback and win? Not to mention, do you really think a round of boos will make it more likely that Rivera blows the save? That he’ll be rattled by an angry ovation? If anything, I’m guessing the applause might disarm him; have him take the mound thinking: “Wait a second . . . where the hell am I?!”
And anyway, it’s not like these were the same 37,000 or so fans giving the same standing ovation every time Rivera took the field. Instead, it was thousands and thousands of different fans, who probably only get to one Sox/Yankees game all year, and were taking advantage of their last chance to see No. 42 in the flesh. And you know what that means?
Yup. Those ovations will likely return when the Yankees do from August 16-18 and certainly when Rivera makes his for really real last trip to Fenway from September 13-16. As they should. Because Rivera deserves it. If you love this Yankees/Red Sox rivalry, if it’s meant anything to you over these last 20 years, then Mariano Rivera means something to you. Regardless of his role in the rivalry, he was such a major factor in making it what it was; in making Red Sox fans who they are. He qualifies as a special brand of Boston sports villain, guys like Derek Jeter and Peyton Manning, and maybe someday even LeBron James, who reach a level of greatness where refusing to recognize and appreciate it actually does more harm than good to the rivalries we hold so dear.
So, it will be interesting to see what happens on September 16. At that point, this pennant race will likely be more heated than it is right now. The MLB playoffs may be in Boston’s sight for the first time since 2010. They might find themselves down a run in the bottom of the ninth, when Girardi makes the call for his closer, the greatest closer in baseball history, who will then emerge from the Fenway bullpen for the final time in his legendary career, looking to slam the door on the Sox.
What will happen then?
Despite previous cries to chill out and appreciate one of the greats, in this case, I think it might be better take a page out of the book of another great sports figure, Mr. Pat Riley, who once said:
“The only way to respect a player is by not respecting them at all.”
It’s kind of fitting that, until this weekend, the only cheers that Rivera had received at Fenway was the sarcastic applause at the start of the 2005 season, in recognition of Mo’s role in coughing up the 2004 ALCS. And shouldn’t be forgotten how well Rivera handled the whole ordeal. Him waving to the crowd and embracing his failure. After all, you can do that when you’ve also experienced Rivera’s insane levels of success.
And in that same somewhat sarcastic, but unconditionally respectful sense, for all the applause that Rivera received this weekend and will at various points over the next few months, there’s really only one suitable backdrop for him to take the mound at Fenway for the very last time.
The perfect way to say thanks for nothing and thanks for everything.