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Monday, February 11, 2013

MARIANO RIVERA & ANDY PETTITTE: ONE MORE TIME

Spring Training is finally here and those of us who suffer from baseball withdrawal will finally get our baseball fix. As with every new season, I am excited to see what kind of team the Yankees will put on the field. I want to see the newly acquired Yankees wearing the pinstripes and either taking their swings or working their windup. It is a special time of year, filled with excitement. Every once in a while, we get to watch the sun set on the career of someone special. This is one of those years.


Watching living legends and heroes in the twilight of their careers is a privilege. For those that don't already know, Mariano Rivera holds the record for most career saves with 608 (the next closest active pitcher is Francisco Cordero with 329), the most postseason saves with 42 (the next closest is Brad Lidge with 18), the second lowest career postseason ERA with 0.70, and dozens of other regular-season and postseason records. However, when Mariano Rivera first came up, he was a starter who did not impress too many people. It did not help that he had surgery on his pitching elbow when he was in the minors a few years earlier. Joe Torre, manager at the start of the 1996 season, mentioned that he would not be too upset if the Yankees traded Rivera for some good talent. HE wrote that in his book Chasing the Dream.


Who would have thought that a pitcher who was that much of a liability would become the most reliable man in the Yankees bullpen for the next 17 years and counting. There were questions about whether or not he could handle the transition from setup man to closer in 1997. He responded with 43 saves. Questions came up about whether or not he had the mental fortitude to recover from giving up that Sandy Alomar Jr. home run.
It would be three years before he gave up another run in the postseason. It would be four years before failing to convert another postseason save. After the 2001 World Series, more questions came up about whether or not he would ever recover from that kind of a defeat. He went on to slowly build a Hall of Fame career as the Yankees closer, being the consistently reliable closer for the Yankees, and making us all unaware of what it's like to be nervous in the ninth inning. From 1997 when he first became a closer through 2011, he averaged just over 40 saves per season. That is unheard of. Then there was the news on May 3, 2012, that Mariano Rivera had a torn knee ligament. I admit that I was sure he was done. He was 42, and already amassed more than enough credentials for a Hall of Fame vote. Younger men would have great difficulty with the recovery. Now, in just a few days, he will prove me and everyone else wrong and he is going to take the field for Spring Training. He will join the Yankees as their closer for one more year.

Then there is Andy Pettitte. Pettitte has been a stalwart member of the Yankees starting rotation since 1996. After a new manager and significant turnover following the 1995 season, Andy Pettitte quickly became the ace of the staff in 1996. He was the man who the Yankees relied on to keep the team on a winning track, going 13-3 that season after a Yankees loss. In the legendary Game 5 of the 1996 World Series, he beat John Smoltz in a 1-0 win that would set up the Series win two nights later. He was in the Yankees starting rotation in every postseason after that through 2003. Many of us will remember the fans, knowing that he was going to be a free agent after 2003, chanting his name loudly during Game 6 of the 2003 World Series, letting him know how much he meant to us.


Nevertheless, our hearts broke on December 12, 2003 as he signed with the Houston Astros, citing his desire to be closer to his family. As much as it hurt us, you have to appreciate how much this shows what kind of a man he really is. On January 11, 2007, the Yankees re-introduced Andy Pettitte as a member of the team, having signed him to a one-year deal. In Game 6 of the 2009 World Series, he set the new record for playoff series-clinching wins with six. He also earned his fifth World Series ring in eight trips (seven with the Yankees, one with the Astros). He is the record holder for postseason career wins (19), career starts (44), and career innings pitched (276 2/3). However, most important to the fans, he was part of the Core 4 with Rivera, Derek Jeter, and Jorge Posada.

And now it's time for pitchers and catchers to report to camp and start their drills to get in shape for the new season. Fans will be gawking and getting autographs, the press will be watching and reporting, and some members of the next generation of Yankees will be joining Pettitte and Rivera in sprint drills and long toss sessions. Barring the unforeseen, this will be their final lap together - their victory lap so to speak. Sure, they will be on hand as special instructors at Spring Training in years to come, much as Jorge Posada will be this year. But this year is special. They may not have it on the scoreboard as they did in 2008 for the closing of the old Yankee Stadium, but there will be a countdown. With every appearance on the mound, with every game, with every start and every jog from the bullpen, we get closer to the last time we see them as active players wearing the Yankees pinstripes. Let's take it in, enjoy it, and celebrate what they have meant to this organization and to baseball. 





--Ike Dimitriadis, BYB Writer
Twitter: @KingAgamemnon
My blog is: Shots from Murderer's Row


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