NEW YORK -- Mariano Rivera was fighting back what he later described as a "bombardment of emotions," trying to find the strength to complete the final Yankee Stadium outing of his career. Then he glanced up and spotted two familiar figures ascending the dugout steps, walking in his direction.
Here came Derek Jeter and Andy Pettitte, clad in sweatshirts and assigned to retrieve the baseball. Rivera heard Jeter say that it was "time to go," and that was all Rivera could handle. He buried his face in Pettitte's shoulder and sobbed, hugging his teammate for what felt like an eternity.
"They both came to get me out, and I was thankful they came out," said Rivera, who recorded four late outs to mark his last Bronx appearance in the Yankees' 4-0 loss to the Rays on Thursday. "I needed them there, and they were there."
Pettitte wrapped his longtime teammate, the all-time saves leader, in a deep embrace and tried to console him, describing his love for him and his appreciation for all of their seasons together. Rivera wiped his moist eyes and nodded, then started the long walk to the dugout alone as the sellout crowd of 48,675 roared.
"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. I could feel him crying on me."
Rivera called it a "blessed" moment, and it had been choreographed by manager Joe Girardi, who suggested including Jeter and Pettitte.
"If you're going to take a guy out, it might as well be Mo," Jeter said. "I'm happy I was able to do it. We've all grown up together. It's too bad that good things have to come to an end."
Girardi had needed to call upon Rivera for the last two outs of the eighth, rescuing Dellin Betances after Evan Longoria connected for a two-run single.
There was no save to record in this one, not even a lead to protect, as Rivera jogged to the mound for the final time. He floated in to Bob Sheppard's recorded introduction and behind the strains of Metallica's "Enter Sandman," and the Rays came out of the third-base dugout to applaud the 43-year-old.
"Anybody would have done that," Rays pitcher David Price said. "It wasn't us going out of our way. He probably deserves more than that."
Girardi greeted Rivera with just five words: "First and second, one out."
Rivera retired Delmon Young on a one-pitch flyout, then got Sam Fuld to bounce a ball back to the mound. Rivera speared the ball and tossed it fluidly to first base, ending the inning.
"He made my job fun. He made my job easy," Girardi said later between red-eyed sobs. "But probably more important than that, he made our lives better. We're going to miss him."
Between innings, as the Yankees threatened but were unable to score off Alex Cobb and Joel Peralta, Rivera went to the treatment room. He asked assistant trainer Mark Littlefield to slather his right arm with liquid heat, and as he received treatment, his mind wandered.
"Everything started hitting me from there," Rivera said. "All the flashbacks, from the Minor Leagues to the big leagues, all the way to this moment. It was a little hard."
It took 1,115 appearances, 652 of which resulted in saves, but finally the magnitude of a moment had jangled Rivera's steely nerves.
"After the eighth inning, I knew I was going back for the last time," he said. "It was a totally different feeling; something I've never felt before. I don't know how I got those two guys out."
Rivera got Jose Lobaton to tap back to the mound and induced Luke Scott to pop up to second base for his final Yankee Stadium out. As he approached the mound with a grin, Pettitte tapped his right arm authoritatively, making reliever Matt Daley the answer to an instant trivia question.
"The guys said that I looked pretty official," Pettitte said with a laugh.
Between innings, Girardi had asked umpires Laz Diaz and Mike Winters if it was OK to send a player to the mound to retrieve Rivera; Winters, the crew chief, shrugged and said he didn't mind. Girardi then pressed his luck and asked if he could send two.
"They said, 'Yeah, go ahead,'" Girardi said. "And I really appreciate that, because I think it made the moment even more special for Mo."
Rivera hugged his teammates in the dugout, then was led back to the field for a curtain call. He said it had been "a great, great night," and the only thing he would change is the final score; the Yankees were held to four baserunners over seven-plus innings by Cobb, who retired 15 straight through one stretch.
Though he couldn't keep pace with Cobb, Ivan Nova finished his season on a strong note, limiting the Rays to two runs and eight hits over seven innings. Longoria drove in three runs for the Rays, and Delmon Young hit a seventh-inning homer.
After Jake McGee retired Robinson Cano for the final out of the game, the Yankees' dugout emptied to reveal Rivera sitting alone by the first-base entrance, seemingly trying to absorb each remaining second.
"Being able to finish the way the Lord allowed me to finish, it was spectacular," he said.
A cluster of photographers assembled by the dugout railing, and they captured Rivera's slow journey back to the mound. He kicked at the rubber and assumed his set position, then dropped to his knees and scooped a fistful of dirt to take home.
In a season of gifts from ballparks across America, this was perhaps his most meaningful souvenir.
"I wanted to get some dirt and stand there for the last time, knowing I'm not going to be there no more, especially pitching," he said. "Competing, I won't be there no more. That little time that I was there was special for me. Just me alone."