Major Leagues: Rivera adds to legacy
Published 12:00 am Monday, June 29, 2009
By Jay Cohen
NEW YORK ó Mariano Rivera has seen all the histrionics by some closers. It’s fine, he said, because it’s part of their personalities.
Rivera has his own way of celebrating a big save for the Yankees.
“I go home,” he said. “Simple as that. As quick as I finish, I go home.”
Rivera went home Sunday night with his 500th save, getting four outs in a 4-2 victory over the Mets to become the second major leaguer to reach the milestone. He also got his first career RBI with a bases-loaded walk against Francisco Rodriguez in the ninth.
“I don’t know if we’ll ever see another Mariano Rivera,” manager Joe Girardi said. “I really don’t believe we will.”
The 39-year-old reliever’s landmark save featured some of the mettle that has made him so reliable over the years. He threw a called third strike past Omir Santos with runners on first and third to end the eighth, bending his cutter to the inside corner.
Daniel Murphy blooped a two-out single in the ninth, but Rivera retired Alex Cora on a bouncer to second.
“He makes everything so easy,” Rodriguez said, “and I know as a closer it’s not easy, at all.”
Rivera got the ball and a hug from first baseman Mark Teixeira after the final out. Other Yankees soon made their way to the infield near first to congratulate the backbone of four World Series championship teams and 10 division title winners.
“As far as I’m concerned, the success that this organization has had over the last 14 years, he’s probably the biggest reason,” Andy Pettitte said. “I don’t think anybody gives enough credit to how hard it is to close games out.”
Rivera has saved 59 of Pettitte’s 222 wins, a major league record for a closer-starter combo and just one in a slew of staggering numbers from the right-hander’s career. It was his 110th save of four outs or more ó an unheard of total with today’s closers rarely required to pitch more than an inning. He has blown just 13 regular-season save chances since 2005 and 61 in 15 major league seasons.
Rivera also has proven himself on baseball’s biggest stage, going 8-1 with a 0.77 ERA and a major league-record 34 saves in the postseason.
“It’s very, very difficult to be consistent year in and year out,” Yankees captain Derek Jeter said. “He’s been consistent every year.”
Rivera, Jeter, Pettitte and Jorge Posada came up through the minors together. Rivera was a starter when he made it to the majors in 1995 and went 5-3 with a 5.51 ERA in 19 games, 10 starts, in his first season with New York.
Girardi was traded to the Yankees in November 1995 and first saw Rivera pitch when he caught him early in spring training.
“I remember asking myself, `Who’s this guy?’ because I was like `Wow, he’s got great stuff,”‘ the manager said. “He burst on the scene in ’96 and was as dominant as any reliever I’ve ever seen.”
Rivera teamed with John Wetteland to give the Yankees a dominant presence at the back end of games as New York won its first World Series title in 18 years. He was 8-3 with a 2.09 ERA and 130 strikeouts in 107 2-3 innings, helping Wetteland finish with an AL-best 43 saves.
Rivera earned his first big league save that year, too. He finished Pettitte’s 8-5 victory over the California Angels on May 17, 1996, getting Garret Anderson to ground into a game-ending double play. Girardi and Jeter each had two hits and an RBI in the game.
“I was just happy to be in the big leagues,” Rivera said. “I wasn’t thinking to achieve anything, just be in the big leagues and do the best that I could for my team and everything (else), just blessings from above. I didn’t expect any of this.”
Wetteland was the World Series MVP but the Yankees let him leave as a free agent, handing the job to an untested Rivera. He responded with 43 saves and a 1.88 ERA before stumbling in the postseason, when he surrendered Sandy Alomar Jr.’s tying homer in Game 4 of New York’s first-round loss to Cleveland.
He didn’t blow another postseason save opportunity until Luis Gonzalez’s game-ending single in the ninth inning of 2001 World Series Game 7.
“It’s pretty amazing what he’s been able to do with pretty much a fastball,” Posada said. “Best in the business.”
Rivera has said he’s all about helping the Yankees win another World Series.
“To become the greatest closer of all-time in the largest city in the world, under the most pressure and scrutiny that you can have ó with one pitch, to boot, it’s just amazing,” general manager Brian Cashman said.
And it almost didn’t happen. There was some debate before the 1996 season about whether Jeter was ready to become the everyday shortstop and the Yankees considered trading Rivera to the Seattle Mariners for Felix Fermin. They concluded Jeter was ready.
“We thought we didn’t need a shortstop,” Cashman said. “We did not know we were sitting on a Hall of Famer.”