Mariano Rivera turned around and saw the assembled media near his locker. With a bemused look, the greatest closer of all time signaled them over and said “two minutes.”
That’s how Rivera’s last hours before his final home game unfolded and he answered questions about the emotional impact of his last home appearance but also inquiries about center field.
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Yes, center field — as in playing there.
It has been a long-standing wish of Rivera to play there. After all a significant part of his pregame routine has involved shagging fly balls in the outfield. Many have seen him do it and many have stated he might one of the best, if not the best athletes on the team.
Manager Joe Girardi said before Thursday’s game he would absolutely put him out there if there was an opportunity. It will not take place against the Rays since the game is still meaningful to Tampa Bay but could happen this weekend at Houston in a series with little meaning.
“Absolutely, absoulutely,” Girardi said.
Don’t look for Rivera to start a game there but look for him to enter in the eighth inning and if the opportunity exists he would move to the mound for the ninth.
“In my mind thinking that he’s going to want to pitch, it might be a situation that I bring him in in the eighth to play the outfield and close him out in the ninth if we have that opportunity,” Girardi said.
Shagging fly balls in left field at Kansas City is how Rivera injured his knee last May and Houston has one of the most challenging center fields in MLB with an angle that turns into a hill just in front of the center-field fence.
“If my body permits it,” Rivera said. “One thing I will tell you, if I can do it, I will do it. If I cannot do it, I will not be making a fool of myself there. I’m a professional, and this is not a joke for me. This is serious. This is business. I respect the game, and with that, I leave it like that. If I’m OK, if I can do it, I will do it. If not, it’s fine.”
He also pointed out he is older and his knees are not what they were when he made the request.
“It’s not a game for me, guys,” he said. “I don’t know how you guys are taking it, but this is not a game for me. It’s something that I respect. I put the request [to play an inning in center field] way back, a long time ago, and now my knees are not the same. We’ll see what happens.”
Rodriguez not in lineup, will join the team
Alex Rodriguez has just one hit since Friday’s grand slam and a variety of things plaguing his leg have forced him into designated hitter duty for the rest of the season.
Rodriguez was not in the starting lineup Thursday and though nobody said anything about future availability, Wednesday might have been his last game of the season due to his legs.
If that is the case, Rodriguez will finish his 10th season with the Yankees with a .244 average, seven home runs and 19 RBIs.
Earlier Thursday, there were conflicting reports about Rodriguez’s presence with the team this weekend.
The New York Daily News reported the Yankees would give Rodriguez permission to skip the trip and use the time off as a way to begin preparations for the arbitration hearing which begins Monday for his 211-game performance-enhancing drug suspension.
General manager Brian Cashman called those reports “false” when asked by ESPN New York and when Girardi discussed it Thursday, it was news to him.
“We know nothing about that,” Girardi said. “I know some reports came out but we expect him to be there. He does not have permission not to be there.”
Girardi talks Cano contract reports
With the Yankees eliminated on Wednesday, the focus now turns toward the offseason, which includes re-signing prominent free agent Robinson Cano.
According to various reports the number 10 years and $305 million has been used by Cano’s side after they turned down offers of $138 million for eight years and six years for $144 million.
The reported suggestion by Cano’s camp in the Roc Nation agency is the same amount of years but $53 million more than Rodriguez’s original 10-year deal with the Rangers and in the vicinity of what Mets third baseman David Wright agreed to last winter.
“You’re asking to me to speculate what’s going to happen this winter and it doesn’t make a lot of sense,” Girardi said. “I think the Yankees have shown a lot of interest in Robby Cano. I don’t think there’s any doubt about that but as I’ve said with trades and free agency, it takes two to tango.”
The last games of a season, especially for non-playoff teams, can be bittersweet as the reality of the business side seeps in due to free agency.
“You think about it being a few guys last game in a sense because you know that every year you get close to a group of players and it’s a new group when you come back,” Girardi said. “That’s a lot of times, the tough part of the game, but absolutely [I want Cano back]. No one knows what’s going to happen in the offseason and there are no guarantees who’s going to be here next year so it very possibly could [be his final game] and Robby has been a joy to manage as well — just a great player that does a lot of great things.”
Follow Yankees beat writer Larry Fleisher on Twitter @LarryFleisher.