Mariano Rivera, Derek Jeter, Andy PettitteMariano Rivera‘s goodbye to Yankee Stadium ended with him sweeping the dirt on the pitcher’s mound into a small pile and collecting a handful to take home. But Yankee Stadium’s goodbye to Rivera was in the top of the ninth, when a Joe Girardi-concocted plan that started with what was really an illegal pitching change created a moment that will be remembered in Major League Baseball for a long time.

Girardi sent Rivera’s two remaining teammates from the Yankees’ “Core Four,” Andy Pettitte and Derek Jeter, out to the mound to pull him from the game. Rivera smiled as they approached, Jeter could be seen mouthing the words “time to go,” Pettitte went in for a hug, and the tears began.

Jeter and Pettitte were just as moved by the moment as Rivera when they relayed afterward what it was like to be on the mound.

“I’ve been coming to Mo at the mound, but I’ve been coming at a different angle most of the time,’’ Jeter said, according to the New York Post. “It was a little different coming from [the dugout], but I’m glad Joe let us be a part of it, because we’ve been like brothers for 21 years.’’

Rivera was crying so much “he couldn’t speak,” Jeter said.

“We’ve all grown up together,’’ Jeter said. “It’s too bad good things have to come to an end, I guess, eventually.’’

Rivera hugged Pettitte first, and that embrace was the longest as the usually stoic closer quickly became emotional.

“Mo broke down and just gave me a big bear hug, and I just bear-hugged him back,” Pettitte said. “He was really crying. I could feel him weeping on my shoulder, and I just told him, ‘Man, you’ve been so awesome to play with.’ … I’m so glad we did it. It was such a great moment. Just the emotion to be able to share that with Mo, that was tremendous. It will be something I will never forget.’’

It was Rivera’s night, but it was also the last night for Pettitte at Yankee Stadium. The pitcher, who holds records with Rivera for their feats as a starter-closer tandem, is also finished after this season ends, although he made his announcement late this season and to far lesser fanfare than baseball’s greatest closer.

That’s a fate that will soon also confront Jeter, the final member of the group of young players who came up with the Yankees in the late 1990s and led the franchise to four World Series in five years (Jorge Posada being the final one).

“I’m happy Mo was able to go out like this,” Jeter said. “I thought what the fans did for him this whole homestand was awesome. I’m happy that I’ve been able to be his teammate for 21 years.’’

Girardi said he’d been thinking about how to send Rivera off and liked the idea of letting Pettitte and Jeter do the honors.

“[Rivera] made my job fun,” Girardi said, according to Yahoo! Sports. “He made my job easy. But probably more important than that, he made all our lives better.”

As did Thursday’s night farewell.

Click here to watch Rivera’s goodbye >>