Friday, May 4, 2012

The End For The Greatest Ever?

If you regularly read this blog, or simply paid attention to the name, you know that I am a Yankee fan.  Last night before the game Mariano Rivera, the greatest closer to ever play the game, tore his ACL shagging balls during batting practice.  Most people expected this to be Rivera's last season but no one expected this (just like no one expects the Spanish Inquisition).  While it is unknown what the future will hold, most people, including me, think this is it that he will hang them up.

For 17 years Rivera has been one of the few things you could always count on.  Lots of other closers have come and been highly touted, and then have disappeared again.  Remember Houston Street? Eric Gagne? Francisco Rodriguez? Keith Foulke? Bobby Jenks?  They've all had great moments, but what are they doing today?  Joakim Soria and Brian Wilson, who were touted, are out for the season and who knows if they will ever be dominant again.  Even Jonathan Papelbum has shown weaknesses and his future is no sense guaranteed.

But every year, year after year, Rivera has been there.  Contrary to popular opinion, he is not just a one-pitch pitcher.  His cutter is certainly his bread and butter and it is dominant, but he throws other pitches, but what has been even more important is that he has pinpoint control.  For 17 years as others have come and gone, Rivera has always been there, and now he's not.  The Yankee Universe is in a state a shock this morning.

But to show you what Rivera is like as a teammate, rather than immediately going back to New York for a second opinion, to meet with team doctors and decide what happens next, Rivera said he is going to stay with the team in order just to be there with them.

The one story that I have always loved about Rivera, and will be the one I will include when I finally write my baseball book, comes from the 2001 World Series.  Widely regarded as the best World Series of all time, it featured, not one, but two incredible come from behind wins by the Yankees, and could have been three.  In game seven, the Yankees scored runs in the 7th and 8th innings to take a 2-1 lead, with just six outs to go and with Mo coming in.  He got through the 8th with no problem, but in the 9th game up the tying and winning runs.

I won't go through the details because it's still too painful to relive, but after the game, when lots of other players would have already left the locker room, or went to areas where the press could not talk to them, there was Mariano Rivera standing at his locker answering questions.  For more than an hour, as reporter after reporter asked exactly the same question, Rivera sat their and answered them all.  He never got short, he never expressed anger or frustration, he simply sat there and took responsibility for what had happened.  He was the consummate professional and the consummate gentleman in that moment, and it typifies who Rivera is.

I don't know if I will ever see Rivera pitch in another game, but if he doesn't I will always be able to say that I had been there when "Enter Sandman" began playing and the stadium rose as one to cheer the entrance of the greatest closer to ever play the game.

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