NEW YORK — Mariano Rivera said goodbye to Yankee Stadium with hugs, tears and cheers.
Baseball's most acclaimed relief pitcher made an emotional exit in his final appearance in the Yankees' home pinstripes, when captain Derek Jeter and Andy Pettitte came to the mound to remove him with two outs in the ninth inning of a 4-0 loss to the Rays on Thursday night.
"It's time to go," Jeter appeared to tell Rivera.
During four minutes of thunderous chanting from the sellout crowd of 48,675, an overcome Rivera sobbed as he buried his head on the shoulder of Pettitte, who also is retiring when the season ends Sunday, and then hugged Jeter.
It was an extraordinary sight in a sport where a manager almost always goes to the mound to make a pitching change.
Yankees manager Joe Girardi checked with umpires to make certain Jeter, who is on the disabled list, could take part.
"I was so thankful they came out," Rivera, 43, said. "I was bombarded with emotions and feelings. Everything hit. I knew that's the last time. Period."
Said Pettitte: "I could feel him crying on me."
Before the game, Girardi said he "absolutely" is considering playing baseball's best closer ever in centerfield this weekend in Houston.
Doing so would fulfill a dream that Rivera has been talking about for more than a decade. But Rivera said he has to make sure he can physically handle it.
"I put in the request way back long time ago and now my knees are not the same," Rivera said. "So we'll see what happens."
Girardi envisions Rivera coming out from the bullpen to play centerfield in the eighth inning, then taking the mound in the ninth to close the game.
"One thing I'll tell you, if I can do it, I'll do it," Rivera said. "If I can't do it, I won't be making a fool of myself there."
Rivera is not exactly in what a centerfielder might call game shape. When Rivera was asked if he would like to play a full game in center, he said, "Nooooooo."
On Thursday, the crowd showed its appreciation early and often, beginning with the addition of a "Mariano" chant at the end of the customary roll call from the bleachers in the first inning. Rivera waved his hat in acknowledgment from the dugout.
The chants resumed in the eighth inning. As Rivera began to loosen up, fans sitting next to the bullpen stretched over the railing to snap photos.
"It means the whole world to me," he said. "It's amazing. I definitely appreciate the fans."
Rivera had not entered a game with the Yankees trailing by four runs or more since May 20, 2008, against Baltimore. Matt Daley is the answer to a future trivia question — he relieved Rivera.