Keeler: Rivera, Pettitte will be missed

All great things must come to an end.

This weekend that’s what will happen when Andy Pettitte and Mariano Rivera play for the New York Yankees for the last time.

I’m usually not the sappy type. I generally think that athletes that are older should retire and do not get caught up in any sort of hype over it.

However, as I watched the Yankees honor Rivera last Sunday (part of Mariano Rivera Day) I couldn’t help but think back on everything this great duo has done and meant to the Yankees. Let there be no doubt about it — they will be missed.

Other former Yankees have left the team or retired and it hasn’t bothered me at all, but Pettitte and Rivera are special.

First of all, they are two of my favorite Yankees of all time.

The duo has combined for more wins and saves than any other combination in baseball history (or since saves became an official stat in 1969, but close enough).

They were both key parts to the Yankees winning five World Series Championships since 1996.

Rivera is simply the greatest closer of all time. The stats back that up, but more importantly I think the proof is in what he was able to do year after year and especially in the postseason. He pitched in a lot of big situations in the playoffs and World Series, and he almost always came through.

He has 652 saves, including a record 42 in the postseason. He has a career ERA of 2.21 and a WHIP of 1.00.

Of course Rivera was the set-up guy for John Wetteland in the first World Series the Yankees won. I knew even then that Rivera was going to be great, but I didn’t realize how great.

I’ve been watching all season as team after team honored ‘Mo’ and it’s great to see him get the recognition he deserves. Certainly, the All-Star game was my favorite moment from this year. To see the standing ovation he got from both teams was pretty special.

Last Sunday, the Yankee fans treated him in true Yankee fashion with a standing ovation and plenty of chants. Metallica even made an appearance to sing “Enter Sandman” as Rivera walked out from the bullpen area. That was a moment I’ll never forget.

The entire ceremony was 50 minutes, and I think it was done perfectly. I really didn’t expect to be emotional as I watched it, but seeing the highlight reels and all the old faces from former Yankees that showed up made me realize just how special Rivera really is.

Rivera is not just any closer, he’s the greatest closer of all time and without him the Yankees don’t win those five championships.

At times this season Rivera has struggled, but what I love most about him is how calm he stays even when there’s nothing but chaos around him. That’s part of what has made him so successful — with basically one pitch.

It was only fitting that Pettitte got the start on Mariano Rivera Day last weekend, because the two have meant so much to the team the last 20 years.

Pettitte certainly wasn’t the most talented pitcher, but he always battled. He was a bulldog, a competitor. I always knew when he took the mound in a big game he was going to give everything he had. That’s why he’s one of my favorites.

He’s won more postseason games (19) than any other pitcher. I’m not sure if he’ll be a Hall of Famer, but I think he should be.

Pettitte has 255 wins. He’s never had a losing season. He’s had the most strikeouts in Yankees history (1,958) and the third-most wins (208).

Pettitte will make his last start on Saturday in Houston, his hometown. Even though the Yankees are out of playoff contention I know Pettitte will give it his all one last time. Hopefully, Rivera will get the save as Pettitte gets the win, which would be for a record 80th time.

Pettitte and Rivera are part of the “Core Four” along with Jorge Posada and Derek Jeter. The four came up through the Yankees’ farm system and of course, with the exception of Pettitte being in Houston for three years, stayed with the franchise their entire careers. That kind of loyalty is something that you don’t see much of in sports these days. That’s part of what makes them special and so beloved by Yankee fans, including me.

Posada retired a few years ago, and now Pettitte and Rivera will follow. That only leaves Jeter, and when he was answering questions last weekend you could tell it was starting to hit him.

The end of the “Core Four” era is here. I’m sure Jeter will come back for another year, and I hope he does. Jeter is my favorite athlete in the world and he deserves his own farewell tour like Rivera had, but that’s for another column down the road.

Pettitte and Rivera will be missed by the team, by the fans, by the entire league. They represent what being a Yankee is all about, and they took great pride in being a Yankee.

Much like many of the Yankee legends before them, Pettitte and Rivera gave everything they had to give. They were winners, champions and most of all they will be Yankees forever and truly missed.

Contact Assistant Sports Editor Tommy Keeler at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or tkeeler@nvdaily.com Follow on Twitter @tkeelernvd