NEW YORK - Mariano Rivera met his former batterymate on the infield grass, a game ball -- dirtied by infield clay, scuffed by a fresh bat mark -- resting between his fingertips.

Joe Girardi isn't necessarily the biggest memorabilia collector, though he does keep a safe at his Florida home for special possessions. His first big league hit is tucked away, as well as his final one.

This memento, Rivera correctly guessed, was one that Joe Girardi would want.

"That's No. 1," Rivera said, placing the trophy in Girardi's hands, "and let's have a lot more."

Girardi became the 10th Yankees manager to win his debut at the helm, with Tuesday's 3-2 victory over the Blue Jays coming in fitting fashion for the one-time Bombers backstop. Of all the difficult decisions Girardi is certain to face over his Yankees tenure, deciding how to map out the last three outs of the final Opening Day at Yankee Stadium should not compare in the least.

"Special," Girardi said. "It kind of reminded me when I used to catch Mo, and what a great feeling it was when the door opened and he came in. I had that same feeling tonight."

When George Steinbrenner appeared on the video screen in right-center field after 4 1/2 innings on Tuesday, pulling a lever to signify the official nature of Yankees home game No. 1 of 81 in this sendoff season, it also signified the beginning of a new era in New York.

The last time a manager other than Torre occupied the office underneath the first-base seats at Yankee Stadium, it was 1995, and Buck Showalter's pitching staff was controlled by Mike Stanley, the ultra-popular power-hitting catcher whom it would be so difficult for Girardi to replace a year later.

Gritty and hard-working, Girardi eventually won the paying customers over. With that experience under his belt, replacing a popular figure in New York should be old hat for Girardi.

"You look forward to this day from the time I signed as manager," he said. "You do all of the preparation up until Spring Training, and all of the preparation during Spring Training, and what all of the coaches did. I saw it pay off tonight.

"I saw a guy scoring from first tonight and running very easily, and I saw guys hitting triples. It's an unbelievable feeling when you actually get to play for real, because that's what you work for."


"I saw a guy scoring from first tonight and running very easily, and I saw guys hitting triples. It's an unbelievable feeling when you actually get to play for real, because that's what you work for."
-- Yankees manager Joe Girardi

The novelty of looking down the Yankees' bench and seeing Girardi instead of Joe Torre may have worn off for players like Derek Jeter, who got over the change a few weeks into Spring Training, but the differences are still sinking in bit by bit -- particularly when Girardi exploded from the first-base dugout during pregame introductions.

"He moves a little better than Mr. T did, trotting out to the foul line," Jeter said.

The moment Girardi said he will keep with him from Tuesday's events in the Bronx -- from all the ceremonies, the celebration, and from two stupendous catches by Melky Cabrera -- will actually come from the final-out ball he tucked away after the game, destined for a ride back to Westchester County before ultimately resting in that lock-box down in South Florida.

Rivera's 12th pitch of the evening rolled across the infield grass and into second baseman's Robinson Cano's glove, flipped on to Jason Giambi for out No. 27. For a man who wears the next sequential digits of Yankees World Series titles upon his back, the significance was not lost.

"That's the moment I'll remember," Girardi said.