Mariano Rivera has simply been the classiest future Hall Of Famer in the MLB since he walked out onto the mound in 1995. He'll be considered the greatest reliever of all time and major props have to go to Girardi, Jeter and Pettitte for how they handled his last game at the stadium. What an emotional scene to behold when Mo broke down in tears in Andy's arms. What a class act.
I remember watching him pitch as a rookie in 1995; he had a great fastball and not much else, but during the first wild card playoffs against the Mariners, Mariano was used out of the bullpen and was as dominant then as he is today. In 5 and 1/3 innings, he gave up 3 hits with 8 SO's and 0 runs. Buck Showalter, then the Yankee manager, blew that series by not pitching Mo in the eighth inning of the final game when David Cone had run of of gas because he just didn't realize or believe how good Mariano was. Cone walked in the tying run on a 3-2 off speed pitch with two outs and Seattle won in extra innings. The following year (1996) Mariano was teamed with John Wettleand for one of the greatest one-two punches of all time. In 103 innings he struck out 130 batters, .209 ERA and a WHIP of .994. Check out his amazing stats here. If the Yanks had the lead after six innings, the game was over. They went on to win the World Series that year with a terrific comeback against the Braves and after a blip in 1997, went to win three more championships (1998-2000) in a row.
In 1997 he was given the closer job after Wetteland went to Texas as a free agent and he blew three of his first six save opportunities and then fate took over.
He and his old catch partner, Ramiro Mendoza, were throwing together one afternoon, Rivera says, "and I was blowing [saves] ... I wasn't doing good. I was trying so hard. Nothing was moving."
Difficult -- if not impossible -- to imagine now. But, indeed, when the Yanks promoted Rivera to closer after allowing Wetteland to walk as a free agent, he responded by blowing three of his first six save opportunities. Anyway, as Rivera threw with Mendoza on that now-hallowed day in Yankees history, the ball suddenly started to move.
"[Mendoza] was upset at me because the ball was moving and he thought I was making the ball move," Rivera says. "From that moment, I told Mel [Stottlemyre, then-Yankees pitching coach], I have no control over this. The ball is moving, and I have no control." Rivera and Stottlemyre worked on it at old Tiger Stadium when the Yankees landed in Detroit in late June.
"Didn't matter how I grabbed the ball," Rivera recalls. "It was still moving. I told Mel that I won't be throwing no more balls in the bullpen because I need to be ready for the game. We worked a lot and this thing is still the same and let's leave it like that."
Rivera saved all three games in Detroit that series, career Nos. 23-25, and one of the singularly most lethal weapons in baseball history had launched.
Mariano wasn't perfect, but nobody can be. He lost in Cleveland in 97' and in Arizona in 2001, but he came as close to perfection as there is. He appeared in 68 post season games and the Yanks won 64 of them. Watching Rivera break bats at an extraordinary pace was insane and a joy to watch for a baseball fan and in all these years he's never lost his stuff, which is remarkable. (2013: 44 saves, 2.21 ERA) He's a very religious man, but never overdid it to play to the cameras. He's a true all-time great and he will be missed. Heck, he could still pitch in MLB if he wanted to. The Yanks will finish the season with three meaningless games against Houston and Girardi has said that he may play Mo in the outfield which has been a dream of his. Mariano has always been considered the best all around athlete on the team and he went out with dignity and class. And when he broke down in tears the way he did in Pettitte's arms I knew that we'll never see another pitcher like Mariano Rivera in the history of MLB.