TAMPA, Fla. -- Mariano Rivera and his family walked into the pavilion behind the third-base stands at Steinbrenner Field followed by his New York Yankees' teammates.
It was the start of the long goodbye for baseball's greatest closer.
Dressed in a dark jersey top and pinstriped uniform pants, Rivera announced what already had leaked out in prior days: This will be his 19th and final major league season.
And the 43-year-old has a clear vision of how he wants his career to end.
"The last game I hope will be throwing the last pitch in the World Series," he said. "Winning the World Series, that would be my ambition."
Rivera said he made the decision before arriving at spring training. With the entire Yankees' team looking on -- including longtime teammates Derek Jeter and Andy Pettitte -- Rivera said he knew the time was right for his decision. Rivera sat a table and team officials, led by managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner and manager Joe Girardi, sat nearby.
"I have just a few bullets left," he said.
He then made his first game appearance since April 30, throwing 15 pitches during a 1-2-3 fifth inning against Atlanta. Looking like his overpowering self of old, Rivera retired Dan Uggla on a popup to second, then threw called third strikes past Juan Francisco and Chris Johnson.
"It was great to be on the mound again," Rivera said with a big smile.
Rivera jogged onto the field from the right-field bullpen to a standing ovation as Metallica's Enter Sandman was played, then left the mound to another loud ovation. He called the whole day "overwhelming."
"It's wonderful," Rivera said. "I can't ask for more than that."
With a dominating cut fastball few batters have figured out, Rivera holds the career saves record with 608 and has helped the Yankees win five World Series titles. He combined with Jeter, Pettitte and Jorge Posada to form the Yankees' Core Four.
"We just have a special relationship," Pettitte said. "I don't know how to explain it. Obviously, when you spent as much time together after as many years as we've been together, you just kind of grow a little closer to one another than you would with other teammates. He's always been there for me."
Rivera briefly spent time with Pettitte and Jeter following the news conference, then headed toward the back field next to the pavilion to work out with the other pitchers.
"What almost got me was seeing the whole team there," Rivera said. "I was like, 'Wow!' It was great that Joe allowed it."
Jeter said it's great that Rivera has "come to peace with what he wants to do."
"Now he can enjoy this season," the Yankees captain said. "I think it's going to be a special year for him. I'm happy for him. He's made this decision, and it's the best one for him and his family."
Rivera missed most of last year after tearing his right knee while shagging flyballs during batting practice in early May. Rivera said he would have retired at the end of last season if he had not gotten hurt.
"I didn't want to leave like that," he said. "I felt like I wanted to give everything."
Rivera also said he wanted to give Yankees fans around the major leagues a chance to see him one more time, knowing this will be the end.
"I'm actually appreciative that we get to enjoy him for one more year," Girardi said. "I think he's prepared to go 100 per cent. I think he'll have a good year. It's been a real treat for me. I was relaxed when he came into the game as a catcher, and I'm relaxed when he comes into the game as a manager, so that's probably about the highest compliment you can pay a closer."
Rivera's wife and two children were by his side for the news conference. He began by playfully thanking the Yankees for giving him a new contract for two additional years through 2015 -- which would break a team policy of not negotiating new deals before the old ones expire.
"It's not too easy when you come to a decision like this," Rivera said, turning serious. "After this year, I will be retired. ... Now you're hearing it from me. It's official now."
While others have proclaimed him the best closer in baseball history, Rivera wouldn't put that label on himself.
"I don't feel myself, the greatest of all time. I'm a team player," he said. "I would love to be remembered as a player who was always there for others."
Yankees general manager Brian Cashman was more emphatic in his assessment.
"He's irreplaceable," Cashman said. "He is the greatest of all-time."
-- The Associated Press