Mariano Rivera will not conclude his career with his version of a perfect ending: a shattered bat, a weak grounder and Rivera falling to his knees and being engulfed by teammates as the celebration of the New York Yankees' 28th World Series championship begins.
What happened Thursday night ranked as a wholly satisfying substitute.
Rivera retired all four batters he faced in his final appearance at Yankee Stadium before he was lifted from the game -- not by manager Joe Girardi but by fellow "Core Four" members Andy Pettitte and Derek Jeter -- with two outs in the top of the ninth inning of the Yankees' 4-0 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays.
Pettitte, who is also retiring after the season, took the ball from Rivera, who wept into Pettitte's shoulder as the two hugged and a sellout crowd of 48,675 stood and roared. Rivera hugged Jeter before leaving the mound and doffing his cap to the Tampa Bay dugout.
Rivera then turned to center field and stared into the distance, his hat still extended, before walking off the field as members of the Rays and the police on the field all applauded him.
A couple minutes after the final out, Rivera walked out to the mound one more time. He pawed at the dirt with his foot and then bent down to collect some dirt.
"We lost, but besides that it was a great night," Rivera said.
The tribute in Rivera's home finale provided an appropriate end to an individual career and a collective era that are not likely to be repeated.
The Yankees were eliminated from the wild card race Wednesday, which meant Thursday was their first meaningless home game since Oct. 3, 1993.
"Pitching for a team that good, staying that healthy for that long ...," Tampa Bay Rays reliever Jamey Wright said Thursday afternoon, his voice trailing off.
Wright knows of the long odds Rivera beat: The Rays are the 10th major league team for Wright, who hopes to pitch in the postseason next week for the first time in his 18-year career.
Rivera, on the other hand, won five World Series rings while pitching only for the Yankees and putting together arguably the best postseason pitching resume in history.
The last baseball player to wear No. 42 will finish his career with, appropriately enough, 42 postseason saves, a 0.70 ERA and a 0.76 walks-and-hits-per-innings-pitched ratio (WHIP).
Those numbers are comparable to the all-time best single seasons authored by relievers: Rays closer Fernando Rodney had 48 saves, a 0.60 ERA and a 0.78 WHIP in 2012, and Oakland A's closer Dennis Eckersley recorded 48 saves, a 0.61 ERA and a 0.61 WHIP in 1990.
However, Rivera's numbers were produced over 141 pressure-packed playoff innings. Rodney and Eckersley combined to throw 148 innings during their dominant regular seasons.
"As a manager, it's really comforting to have him down there because you knew that he was prepared," said Girardi, who also caught Rivera from 1996 through 1999. "Never overwhelmed. The emotions would never get the best of him. He would do his job, and you could ask him to do more than what was maybe expected sometimes."
Rivera got four outs or more in 31 of his 42 postseason saves. Of his record 652 (and counting?) regular-season saves, 119 required at least four outs. Only 14 current big-leaguers have 119 or more saves.
That reliability from March into November -- and the calmness with which Rivera produced it -- makes his brilliance unlikely to be replicated.
Closers are supposed to sprint to the mound, snarl once they get there and expend violent effort with every pitch. But Rivera -- downright frail by baseball standards at 6-foot-2 and 195 pounds -- elegantly jogged out of the bullpen, albeit to the appropriate heavy sounds of Metallica's "Enter Sandman."
Once he arrived at the mound, he used a whisper-like delivery, perfect in his ability to repeat it, and dispatched opposing batters with his famous cut fastball.
"Tipping his pitches constantly -- and (opponents) not being able to hit them -- speaks volumes how good he is," Rays manager Joe Maddon said Thursday.
As remarkable as it is to collect more than 650 saves, Rivera's 2.21 ERA -- 13th lowest all time, behind a dozen men born in the 19th century -- may be the truest indicator of his single-pitch dominance.
"Nobody ever came up just throwing one pitch," said Diamondbacks reliever Heath Bell, a closer for Arizona, the San Diego Padres and the Miami Marlins in his career. "It just seemed like a fastball, (but) it cut and you're like 'Geez, I can't hit it.'"
No matter what closers throw, none is likely to take a run at Rivera's record anytime soon. He became the greatest closer ever in atypical fashion, but the job is still filled by hard throwers who are predisposed to burn bright and then burn out. Only two closers -- the Atlanta Braves' Craig Kimbrel and the Cleveland Indians' Chris Perez -- led their team in saves in each of the past three seasons.
Kimbrel has 138 saves at age 25. He would need to average 40 saves a season for the next 13 seasons to catch Rivera.