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Rivera First to Finish Line
In Epic Battle of Closing Greats, Mariano Comes Out on Top
October 21, 1998 By Joel Sherman
Who could save the World? Game 3 of the 1998 World Series came down to a battle of perhaps the two best closers in the majors, San Diego's Trevor Hoffman and the Yankees' Mariano Rivera. Both were asked to pitch more than their normal one inning. Just Rivera prospered. This October, no one saved like Rivera.
Rivera recorded the final five outs for the Yankees, ending the game by striking out Andy Sheets with runners at first and third to cement the Yankees' 5-4 triumph over the Padres.
The Yankees had the lead because Hoffman failed to hold a 3-2 edge he was handed in the eighth inning. The Padres stalwart permitted a three-run homer to Scott Brosius to put the Yankees ahead 5-3.
"It feels good to me," Rivera said when asked if there were anything special to doing his job when his counterpart did not. "But I was just prepared to pitch. Even if he gives up 10 runs, I have to do my job."
Rivera was the Yankees' most dominating player that postseason. Opponents came into Game 3 1-for-29 against the Yankees closer. But San Diego matched the total immediately.
Ramiro Mendoza had allowed a one-out double to Quilvio Veras in the eighth with the Yanks ahead 5-3. Torre brought in Rivera, who surrendered a single to Tony Gwynn. Greg Vaughn followed with a long sacrifice fly to draw San Diego within a run. But Rivera struck out Ken Caminiti to end the inning.
In the ninth, Rivera got two quick outs before consecutive singles to Carlos Hernandez and Mark Sweeney put the tying run 90 feet away and the winning run at first. But Rivera punched his trademark high fastball by Sheets on a 1-2 count and the Yankees celebrated a three-games-to-none lead.
Part of the reason the Yanks were in this post season was the all-but-flawless work of Rivera. By the end of Game 3, the righty had 12 scoreless innings on the postseason, the most by any reliever since St. Louis' Ken Dayley produced the same amount in 1985.
"I feel great," Rivera said. "I feel confident and when you feel confident you feel as if you can go on forever."CHAPTER 2
Mariano Rivera on God, Family, and the N.Y. Yankees
September 21, 2011 By George A. King III
George A. King III, The Post's Yankees beat writer since 1997, sat down with Mariano Rivera in September 2011 at Rogers Centre in Toronto and chatted with the saves king about his incredible career, faith, family and much more.
New York Post: At what age did you realize you wanted to be a baseball player?
Mariano Rivera: This is a funny thing because I always wanted to be a professional player and play for the New York Yankees but I wasn't pursuing being a professional. God permitted it to happen. I was 20 years old and pitching and the Yankees came and signed me. Right when I put my feet on the steps at the airport in Tampa, I realized, "You know what, this is for real." I had never left my country (Panama) before. I said, "You know what. If I am going to be here and leave my country and my family and everybody I left behind, I am going to be the best. That was the day I realized I wanted to give it the best shot that I could."
NYP: You come to Tampa and had no idea it was going to go this way. Were you homesick?
MR: The first week I was miserable, but everything I do I give my best. Everything starts with God in my career and it will finish with God.
NYP: How long has God been a big part of your life?
MR: Since I was 20, 21. As an athlete, you know your abilities and I knew my abilities weren't enough for me to be in the big leagues, never mind what I have accomplished. God took those abilities and made me better.
NYP: Is 600 just a number or is it a testament to longevity and not having serious injuries? Or is it, "This is what my career has become?"
MR: The blessing of the Lord is No. 1 and then you have the longevity. Then you have to throw in resting and taking care of yourself. There is no way, if you don't take care of yourself, you can expect to play 10 years. It's a combination of everything."
NYP: Reggie Jackson said watching Mariano Rivera on the mound looks like death on the cover of GQ. It's very serious and very calm. Where does that come from?
MR: Ever since I was a little kid, I was competitive. When I am on the mound, it is competition and I have to make it happen. Again, I have to mention the Lord because everything around me begins with the Lord. The Lord's blessing has gotten me here for all these years. The Lord takes control of everything.
NYP: You raced to the Yankee Stadium mound and kissed the rubber after Aaron Boone's 2003 ALCS-winning home run. For a guy who doesn't show much emotion, what caused that?
MR: It was kind of personal. When I saw Boone hit that home run, my only thing was going to the place that I feel connected to. I didn't care who saw me or if they laughed, I didn't care about it. I wanted to thank the Lord. He permitted it to happen.
NYP: You have had so much success, World Series rings, All-Star Games and 600 saves. What has the sacrifice been to your family?
MR: Without the support of my family — and even though they are Christians and have to have blessings, you still have to have the support of your family — I don't see how I would have accomplished any of this. My family has played a big, big, big role.
NYP: When you arrived in spring training in February, you talked about how every year it gets harder to leave your family in Westchester. Next year, you will be older. How tough will that be?
MR: Next year will be even tougher, but I have been blessed because my family has supported me all the way. Moving on, they know the end of my career is coming soon.
NYP: When is the end of your career?
MR: I have another year on the contract. After that I don't know what is going to happen. I will make a decision soon, even before next season is over.
NYP: Do you take games home with you? Big wins, killer losses?
MR: When I don't do the job, there is a tendency for it to bother me on the way home, but it goes away because I don't want to take that home.
NYP: Even 2001 in Phoenix?
MR: No, because I did everything in my power to help us. That's my thing, I check myself. If I put all the effort and I know 100 percent that I did that, then I am OK.
NYP: What do you feel like when you hear Mariano Rivera is the best closer ever, perhaps the best pitcher ever?
MR: I don't let those things get to my mind. I don't feel like that. I am not. I am just a guy who is blessed with a tremendous team, a tremendous gift from the Lord and the support of my wife and family.
NYP: Has your family ever asked you about all the summers you have missed being with them?
MR: Yes, my family has approached me on that. We talk as a family and come to an agreement but this is what I love to do and what I know to do. I just want to make sure when I leave this game, I don't want to have any regrets. We talk about it and we will come to a decision: Continue or stop?
NYP: What did Joe Torre making you the closer in 1997, even though you had very little experience doing that, feel like?
MR: What made that happen was the 1996 season. I remember at the beginning of the year I was a long reliever. But everything fell into place. As a long reliever, it is hard for the manager to see you. Everything that has happened around me, God permitted. The more I pitched as a long reliever, I pitched good. That allowed me to become the set-up man. That was the key.
NYP: Did you have doubt that you could close games?
MR: The first month as a closer was hard. I was trying so hard to do the job that it was impossible for me to do it. I remember Joe calling me into his office and he said, "It doesn't matter what happens, you will be my closer." I mean you know and I know and everybody knows this, if I didn't do my job, I wouldn't be the closer. But I took those words as so encouraging that it was different. I had 43 saves that year.
NYP: You left Panama at 20 and have been in New York a long time. Are you a New Yorker?
MR: I have to be honest, I wouldn't say I am a New Yorker. I will always be a Panamanian. My roots and my family are in Panama. But I consider myself a New Yorker because New York has given me so many opportunities. The people have taken me as one of them. I have been blessed that the city of New York has provided so much for (me) but I can't change my roots.
NYP: Whenever you are done, what are you going to do?
MR: We have a lot of jobs to do with the church. That takes a lot from you. You have to want to do that and I want to do that.
NYP: Are you a demanding parent?
MR: I would say yes in all the ways. I demand my kids be respectful, responsible and grateful. And they have to love the Lord with all their hearts. I am not a father who wants to give his kids everything. They have to earn it.CHAPTER 3
Unbeatable King of Playoffs
Dominant Closer Earns MVP Honors with Win and Two Saves
October 28, 1999 By Kevin Kernan
There was a happy ending to a week in which the Latino community was robbed by Major League Baseball by having its icon, Roberto Clemente, overlooked on the All-Century team. As the Yankees completed their 1999 World Series sweep of the Atlanta Braves, a new hero emerged for another generation to worship. And he was the same kind of caring individual as the great Clemente.
Mariano Rivera ascended to the throne as the best reliever in the majors and the greatest ERA postseason pitcher of them all. Yankees fans can point to a long list of Yankees heroes following the team's third championship in four seasons, but they don't dare overlook the presence of Rivera, who earned Series MVP honors. He was the Yankees' silent killer. And he was a weapon in this World Series that the Braves could not match, not even with John Rocker. And Rivera didn't smash any Corvettes.
"I was the guy throwing the last pitch," Rivera said, "and it felt tremendous."
It seems he was always the guy throwing the last pitch for the greatest team in baseball, the team of the decade, a team that to that point had won three World Series Championships in four years, including back-to-back titles.
"It's impossible to repeat those kind of numbers," Rivera said of the Yankees' dominant 1998 team after he recorded the last out of the Yankees' clinching 4-1 victory over the Braves to clinch the 1999 Series at the Stadium. "But we won the American League. We won the Division. We were the best team in the American League. We won the World Series. We swept Atlanta, one of the best teams. To me, it means a lot to win back-to-back championships. And I did my little job."
It's not little.
Rivera is the best postseason weapon ever. And I don't need a panel of baseball experts to tell me that. He picked up his second save of the Series to go along with one victory, by pitching another 1-1/3 innings of shutout baseball in Game 4. With the tying runs on base in the eighth, he got the Braves' best hitter, Chipper Jones, to bounce to second for the final out of the inning.
Then he worked another silent ninth. His career postseason ERA stood at 0.38 (two earned runs in 47-1/3 innings). He pitched 4 scoreless innings with a win and two saves in three appearances in the 1999 World Series. He pitched 12-1/3 scoreless innings with two wins and six saves in eight appearances in the 1999 postseason. He fired 13-1/3 scoreless innings in the 1998 postseason and had not allowed a run in his last 25-2/3 innings in postseason play over 18 outings, with two wins and 12 saves in that span. His last postseason run allowed was Sandy Alomar's home run in the 1997 playoffs. His last World Series run came in Game 3, 1996, against the Braves. Rivera is a cut-fastball genius.
The previous low postseason ERA mark belonged to Harry Brecheen of the old St. Louis Browns, 0.83, three earned runs in 32-2/3 innings, but those numbers were put up in the war years of 1943 and '44. Brecheen also pitched in the 1946 World Series. The other pitcher to post a phenomenal World Series ERA was a guy named Babe Ruth, who posted an ERA of 0.87 with the Red Sox in the 1916 and 1918 World Series.
Nothing bothers Rivera, not even the streak.
"I just don't even think about it," he said before the game. "I go to the mound and just try to do my job and don't think about the runs, you know, I'm in a spot. I can't afford to give up any runs, so I don't think about it."
It's all about the challenge of the save, Rivera said. "I believe in the challenge. I love the challenge. I love to be in that situation where, I guess, that's my motivation."
Rivera started as a setup man and learned much under John Wetteland, whom he is quick to credit for his success. "The setup man has a net," Rivera said. "The closer doesn't have nothing, so he falls, I mean he's dead."
Of Wetteland, he said, "John was my teacher. He was my friend at the time. He never gave up. I follow him close and see what he was doing. I take that approach."
Wetteland saved all four Yankees wins in the '96 Series to earn MVP honors. The Yankees lost Wetteland and many thought he never could be replaced. Instead they had an even more fearsome weapon. The circle is completeCHAPTER 4
Rivera's Best, Case Closed
Mo Puts Yankees Over the Top
October 27, 2000 By Joel Sherman
At 5:20 p.m. before Game 5 of the 2000 World Series, "Enter Sandman" by Metallica cranked through Shea Stadium and Mets players hit line drives to all fields.
How nice for the Mets that this was Shea and the guy throwing batting practice was bullpen catcher Dave Racaniello.
Normally, "Enter Sandman" is a funeral dirge for hitters because it is the song that brings Mariano Rivera to the mound. And in October, batters would rather hear that bats will be made of paper next year than hear Rivera's theme. Because Halloween does not close October as well as Rivera does.
"They have a lot of great players," Mets manager Bobby Valentine said of the Yankees. "But as far as value, he is in another category."
As midnight came, the Mets were not as fortunate as they had been in late afternoon. Rivera was on his game, and in a matchup from baseball heaven he got Mike Piazza to fly to deep center as the tying run to seal the Yankees' World Series-clinching 4-2 triumph over the Mets. For the third straight year, Rivera threw the last pitch of a baseball season. This time, it was strong enough to stop a Subway.
The Yankees had exceptional starting pitching; so did the Braves and Mets. The Yankees had a good defense, but not as good as Cleveland or San Francisco. The Yankees had an effective, veteran lineup, but the White Sox and A's had orders that posed at least as much a threat.
At this time of year, the Yankees separate themselves from all other teams for one reason — a 30-year-old cutter-throwing dynamo.
"If you had to delineate the one reason the Yankees win, he is the most unique, distinct reason," Indians assistant general manager Mark Shapiro said. "Other teams match up with the Yankees in other areas, but Rivera is the most unique component. No other club has that."
In 1996, Rivera was the Yankees' best pitcher as the set-up man for John Wetteland, and for the 1998, 1999, and 2000 championship seasons, he has been their most important pitcher.
With him, the Yankees play October games backward. If they lead after seven innings, they win. So Joe Torre is always pushing to gain the lead by then and opposing managers are doing everything to avoid an eighth-inning deficit. The Yankees scored twice in the top of the ninth in Game 5 and since that got Rivera to warm up, the 2000 baseball season was over.
"He's not an illusion, he's the real deal," Valentine said of Rivera. "[To have a great closer] is what gives a team confidence. It's what gives a team wins. And he's the best one at it, so they have a little more than other teams at the end of games."
Since 1996, Torre has operated with a weapon no other team can deploy, what has gone from an October surprise to a fall classic. Since 1996, Rivera has dominated the postseason.
In Game 5, he permitted a one-out walk to Benny Agbayani in the ninth before getting Edgardo Alfonzo to fly to right and Piazza to end the season.
Since Torre took over as manager, opponents are hitting .178 off Rivera with a .221 on-base percentage and a feeble .243 slugging percentage. He has allowed a .150 batting average with runners in scoring position. He has never allowed two hits with runners in scoring position in any of his 41 postseason games.
But the brilliance of Rivera is best understood in comparisons to his contemporaries. Mark Wohlers saved 39 games in the 1996 season, but not the World Series Game 4 against the Yankees he absolutely had to.
Trevor Hoffman saved 53 games in 1998, but not the World Series Game 3 against the Yankees he absolutely had to. Armando Benitez saved 41 games in 2000, but not the World Series Game 1 against the Yankees he absolutely had to. So Atlanta lost to the Yankees in 1996, San Diego to the Yankees in 1998 and the Mets lost in 2000.
Overall, Rivera is 4-0 in the postseason with an 0.71 ERA. He has converted 19 of 20 saves. The lone failure came in Game 4 of the 1997 Division Series, when Sandy Alomar homered off him, and the Yankees ultimately were eliminated. Rivera responded by running off his next 18 postseason save tries, including the 2000 World Series clincher.
Excerpted from Mariano Rivera by New York Post. Copyright © 2013 New York Post. Excerpted by permission of Triumph Books.
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