November 29 – Happy Birthday Mariano Rivera
Even though the Yankees failed to get past the Detroit Tigers in the first round of the 2011 playoffs, that season will always be one of my favorites. That’s because I got to see Derek Jeter become the first Yankee ever to get 3,000 hits while wearing the pinstripes and I got to see the great Rivera break the career record for saves.
The best closer ever. Those really are the only four words you need to describe “Mo’s” career with the Yankees. Someone may come along who is better but in my fifty-plus years of being an avid Major League baseball fan, I’ve seen nobody end games as successfully as this guy has for the past seventeen seasons. And the amazing thing is that he’s done it with one pitch, a cut fastball. Yankee fans have watched Rivera’s cutter break a remarkable number of big league bats over the years. The pitch has such late and significant movement that it is almost impossible for even the most skilled big league hitters to get the meaty part of their bat on the ball. I heard Jim Kaat try to explain it during one Yankee broadcast by explaining that Mariano had very long fingers, which helped him get more spin on the cutter than most other pitchers who threw it. Add in his flawless mechanics which enable him to precisely replicate his elegant delivery pitch after pitch and you have the formula for closing perfection that dances to the tune of “Enter Sandman.”
It has been an absolute thrill to be able to watch this guy pitch for New York all these years. In addition to his pitching prowess, Rivera is a great fielder and has been called the best athlete on the Yankee team. The late Bobby Murcer used to say that Mo was the fastest runner and the best outfielder on the Yankees. He is also a soft spoken leader of the team who considers it a privilege to wear the Pinstripes. When interviewed after the Yankee’s 2009 World Series victory, during which he finished all four Yankee victories, Mo indicated he wanted to pitch five more seasons. That was two seasons and 77 saves ago. He turns 42 years-old today. Mo’s 44 saves in 2011 represented the eighth time he has exceeded the 40-save mark in his career. He’s now in the final year of his contract and if recent columns in the sports pages of the New York tabloids are to be believed, there seems to be a chance that Rivera will retire after the 2012 campaign. God I hope not. My advice to all Yankee fans is to watch, enjoy and most of all appreciate this guy as much as you can during his remaining time in pinstripes.