NEW YORK – By God and GPS, Juan Perez had played at Yankee Stadium before.
He used to practice right here, where now stands this gleaming new shrine to baseball in the corporate age. The old stadium was across the street, and to build the footprint for the new one, the city tore out a playground that included four diamonds, blacktop basketball courts and a jogging track.
Perez often brought his glove, or burned oval-shaped laps, to that playground. He’d sneak looks to the left field side of the old stadium, into the players’ parking lot, where he’d take note of which Yankees drove what.
On a breezy Sunday afternoon, in the last light of summer, that piece of land became a playground for Perez again.
He stole Mariano Rivera Day with a save of his own, charging a single and throwing home and eliminating Robinson Cano at the plate as the Giants held their lead in the eighth inning and won 2-1 at Yankee Stadium.
The Giants gave Rivera a custom Metallica guitar. They gave him a lovely watercolor. They did not give him what he most wanted.
“He knew the game was on the line, he put it on the money, and that’s the only way we get him,” said Bochy, after the Giants won on Perez’s throw, Ehire Adrianza’s first big league home run, Tony Abreu’s tiebreaking double and two sparkling plays at third base from Nick Noonan.
Perez, Adrianza, Abreu and Noonan. To any Yankees fan, they are the four horsemen of the anonymous. They snared a victory on a venerated day when the most storied franchise in American sport retired the number of an active player.
It was Andy Pettitte’s last home start as a Yankee, too. And Adrianza busted up what would’ve been a no-hitter for the ages when he hit his first major league home run in the sixth inning. The skinny switch hitter from Venezuela isn’t known for his bat; he only hit two homers for Double-A Richmond this year and didn’t have any in 145 at-bats after being promoted to Fresno.
Later on, when Rivera entered a 2-1 game in the eighth – because you knew he was going to pitch at some point on his day, right? – Adrianza was due up first. He fouled off a cutter that splintered wood.
“He broke my bat,” Adrianza said. “I thought, `Oh my God, that’s another one for him.’”
But Adrianza was smart enough to plan for that possibility.
“It was another, a different one,” Adrianza said. “I told Perez, he’s not going to break my homer bat.”
The Yankees did not have a lead to present Rivera along with the crystal glove, the framed picture, the plaques, the rocking chair and the $100,000 donation to his foundation. But they still had a chance to make a winner of him in the bottom of the eighth.
Rivera was the pitcher of record when Alex Rodriguez singled and Robinson Cano doubled to start the inning. That’s when Noonan, who pinch-ran for Pablo Sandoval and scored the go-ahead run in the eighth, made a diving stop on Alfonso Soriano’s grounder. Pinch runner Zoilo Almonte froze too long and Noonan’s throw home, even though it was high and a bit wide, arrived in plenty of time.
Noonan recovered from a hard smash off his chest to record an out in the ninth, too.
“It shows us what we can do,” Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. “These kids, they all handled themselves really well. Playing at Yankee Stadium, with everything going on, I couldn’t be prouder of the way they handled it.”
Perez had seen Pettitte and Rivera pitch at Yankee Stadium before. The son of a plumber, Perez, who was born in the Dominican Republic, didn’t go to many games in his youth. But a friend gave him an extra ticket to Game 6 of the World Series against the Florida Marlins.
Perez watched as Rivera followed Pettitte that day, the Yankees gave up two runs and they lost – just as it happened on Sunday.
The difference this time: Perez was an active participant on what’s been an especially busy road trip. He had a three-hit game at Citi Field, he barreled up two doubles here on Friday, he got to shake hands with Derek Jeter earlier in the series – and then made the throw of his life in what’s been a small but starry sample of major league defense this season
Oh yeah. One more thing. Perez got to face Rivera in the ninth – and hit a single off him.
“Amazing,” Perez said. “I was in the dugout thinking they might pinch hit (Gregor) Blanco for me. That was the moment I was waiting for, all of my family and friends were waiting for.
“This is the best moment for me.”