Monday, February 11, 2013
MARIANO RIVERA & ANDY PETTITTE: ONE MORE TIME
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.
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