Mariano Rivera vows that he will come back next season, telling reporters last week, “I am coming back,” and to “write it down in big letters.” So…MARIANO RIVERA IS COMING BACK NEXT SEASON.
There. Mo obviously does not want his career to end this way.
But how else could we expect Rivera’s career to end? We don’t expect him to lose the effectiveness of his cutter. It doesn’t appear that he will ever wear out by pitching. So how else could baseball keep Rivera from answering the call to the bullpen?
A knee injury while shagging flies during BP. Yeah, that’s the only way to stop the Sandman — the best relief pitcher in the history of the game. Rivera may never be too old to pitch. He may never be too old to break bats with his devastating cutter. But maybe he is too old to shag flies during BP.
But Rivera resolves to come back and has no regrets.
“If it’s going to happen, it’s going to happen doing something I love to do,” explains Rivera. “And shagging I love to do. I’d do the same thing, without hesitation. The reasons why it happen, you have to take it as it is. You know, just have to fight.”
His illustrious Hall-of-Fame career began inconspicuously enough. There was no fanfare like we’ve seen recently with Bryce Harper or Stephen Strasburg. None of that, “he’ll be the next whomever.”
Very quietly, on May 23, 1995, Rivera took the mound as the starting pitcher — that’s right — starting pitcher for the Yankees at Anaheim against the Angels’ Chuck Finley. His manager was Buck Showalter and his catcher was Mike Stanley, the Yankees’ cleanup hitter that day.
Rivera didn’t last long. He struck out Tony Philips swinging, then caught Jim Edmonds looking. After that, the Angels began to catch up to the Sandman. The future New York closer gave up a three-run jack to Edmonds, then walked Tim Salmon on four straight and Showalter was out of the dugout with the hook. Bob Macdonald was summoned from the Yankees’ bullpen but the damage was done. Joe Ausanio and Scott Bankhead followed Macdonald, but Finley was too good.
In 3.1 innings, Rivera gave up eight hits, three walks, five runs and struck out five. Of his 89 pitches, 50 were strikes. There is no record of how many bats Mo may have broken that day.
He made seven more starts, winning three of them, before making his first relief appearance on Aug. 1. And even that beginning was nondescript. He gave up three runs over two innings, blowing a save in relief of Andy Pettitte before the Yankees scored three runs of their own to make Rivera the winner.
Rivera completed his rookie season with a 5.51 ERA and 1.507 WHIP and looked like anything but a Hall of Famer.
But in 1996, the idea of starting was scrapped for good. He was John Wetteland’s setup man for the world champs in 1996, appearing in 67 games and tossing 107.2 innings. He had five saves and 26 holds and blew just three save chances. He had a more Rivera-like ERA of 2.09 and 0.994 WHIP in his second season. He finished third in Cy Young voting and 12th in the MVP race. By the fall of 1996, everyone knew the name Mariano Rivera.
Rivera’s first save came at Yankee Stadium on May 17, 1996. He induced the Angels’ Garret Anderson to ground into a double play turned by Derek Jeter in a game won by Andy Pettitte. His last — make that his most recent — came on April 30 of this season vs. Baltimore. That was save No. 608 for his career. His next save will come sometime in April of 2013 at the age of 43.
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May 17, 1996
June 11, 1999
Aug. 1, 2001
May 28, 2004
at Devil Rays
July 16, 2006
June 28, 2009
Sept. 13, 2011
April 30, 2012
What they’re saying about Mo...
“Rivera has shagged entire pro career. In Single-A in ’91, his mgr Brian Butterfield watched, said, ‘This guy’s our best outfielder.’”
— Tweet by Joel Sherman of the New York Post
“I saw it all go down. It’s hard even to talk about it tonight. I mean, Mo has meant so much to us on a personal level, and his significance on the field, on the mound. But the bottom line is we’re the New York Yankees, and nobody is going to feel sorry for us.”
— New York Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez
“You have freak injuries, and this is one of them. We had a guy carrying a box down the stairs that broke his foot. You can fall off a curb. You have to allow him to be an athlete and a baseball player and have fun out there. I’ve never seen Mo do anything recklessly, or seen Mo dive to try to rob a home run. It’s the way he exercises.”
— Yankees manager Joe Girardi
“I always argued he was the best pitcher of all-time. Not just the best reliever, but the best pitcher of all-time.”
— New York Yankees first baseman Mark Teixeira