I was able to find the New York Times piece I remember reading by Jack Curry years ago. It stuck with me just because of the way it started. Curry wrote: "Mariano Rivera blew into his clenched hands and then he spit. There was not a bead of sweat on his forehead or a bit of doubt in his confident eyes. Rivera knew the task. The Yankees needed one more out and he needed to get it.
The Yankees were ahead by one run with Padres on first and third and two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning. Andy Sheets was at the plate and Rivera threw a fastball by him at 94 miles an hour for a strike. After Sheets fouled off the second pitch, Rivera's slider strayed out of the strike zone. Sheets fouled off the fourth pitch, another 94-m.p.h. fastball and the most hittable pitch he faced.. That was his chance.
The television camera zoomed in on Rivera, who looked comfortable. Everyone knew the next pitch. Sheets knew, Rivera knew and the fans knew. So Rivera unleashed a 95-m.p.h. fastball that sailed by Sheets around eye level. Sheets swung and missed it to end the game. The Yankees won, 5-4, in Game 3, and now the World Series might be over, too." (Full piece is HERE.)
Reading that now, after all we know about Mo, gives me chills. I'm here to tell you that I have seen great closers in my time. I loved watching Rich Gossage shut down the competition. I had always admired Dennis Eckersley... but I have never, NEVER seen a pitcher do what Mariano Rivera has done.
The New York Times had an amazing breakdown of just how Mariano does it from a few years ago. The funny thing is, we all know how he does it. The fans know, his teammates know and the opposing batter knows. Yet, they can't hit the cutter and the ones that do hit it, like Jay Patyton in the 2000 World Series (read HERE) almost get some sort of "Badge of Courage" for beating Mo. But it happens so rarely, we salute him as being the greatest. Take a moment and watch this:
Last year on my son's 9 year old Little League team, there was a kid who loved pitching and asked the manager point blank why he couldn't be #42. (Our Little League numbers go 1-14.) All this kid wanted was to master his craft, at 9 years old. He wanted to be the great Mariano Rivera. I smiled at him. I got it. I wanted to be Ron Guidry when I was a kid. I understood it totally and as much as I admired and appreciated him having a hero, I said, "Why don't you just make your #9 something special." He agreed and with it, he has the season of his life. But Mariano does that to people young and old...quite simply.... he's raised the bar. He provides life lessons to.
Who doesn't want to go out there and be the best? It's Yankee dominance, but it's more than that, it's being yourself and shooting for the stars to help your team win it all. 5 rings later, there is no better closer ever in baseball history. It's an amazing story, especially thinking about where this man came from...the streets of Panama playing baseball with a milk carton as a glove to being the best, ever in his position.
Even when I met the man a few years ago, I could see it in his face, in his signing of my son's baseball card. He took his time, he smiled, he was precise and he looked me in the eye like I was an old friend. You don't see that with all players, so to see this guy all smiles and happy and knowing he's the best, but not forcing that on me was refreshing.
Today will be bittersweet, but let's not forget we have alot of work to still do. Mo's not done today... we have a whole season with Mariano and if he can handle this farewell tour like his has carried himself for his entire career, it's going to be something special to watch. I will cherish every moment of the "Mo Tour" and I'm happy to say, that fans out there, even non-baseball fans will too. Because while those non-Yankee fans didn't like him when they played against him, they appreciate his talent. They admire him and they see what we see.... the greatest closer of our generation... maybe even ever. In the end, how do you not love this man?
Look for a very special piece by Steve Skinner about Mariano Rivera tomorrow... something very special, only here on Bleeding Yankee Blue.
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