Fans wanted the game to go to Mo
Be honest, Yankees fans. Weren’t you rooting against them in the bottom of the eighth inning Monday?
A lot of people in the Yankee Stadium crowd of 40,045 were cheering with each out and let up a roar when Nick Swisher grounded into a double play. They had their eye on the bullpen where Mariano Rivera was getting ready to come into the game to the familiar sounds of Metallica’s “Enter Sandman.”
The Yankees were ahead, 6-4. If they scored two or more runs, Rivera would have lost the save situation. They had two runners on base in the eighth. If Swisher had put one in the seats, Mo would have had to sit down, and who know how loudly Swish would have booed as he rounded the bases.
The weird thing is that Rivera could never root against his own team. Winning games matters more to him than anything. The more runs the Yankees score the more he likes it. Yet even he understood why everybody was so excited on a day that when a game was not supposed to be played at the Stadium.
Rivera came through and gave those who attended Monday’s rainout makeup game against the Twins a slice of history. With his usual efficiency, Rivera pitched a 1-2-3 ninth inning finishing it off with a called third strike with his patented cutter to Minnesota rookie first baseman Chris Parmelee for his 602nd career save.
That makes it official. Rivera is the greatest relief pitcher of all time, which we already knew. He surpassed Trevor Hoffman in career saves that removes any doubts. Not included in that number are the 42 additional saves Rivera has chalked up in postseason play, 42 and counting, just as he has 602 regular-season saves and counting. There are 10 games left on the Yanks’ schedule, and they are going to postseason play again, giving Rivera plenty of opportunities to add to his totals.
You could tell Mo really liked this one. As cool as he was after saves Nos. 600 and 601, this one was different. He could not hide his joy. His wide, toothy smile that he reserves for teammates when they do something special, like when Derek Jeter got his 3,000th hit July 9, was evident as he stood on the mound and accepted congratulations from Jeter, catcher Russell Martin, his long-time previous catcher Jorge Posada, manager Joe Girardi, trainer Gene Monahan and the rest of the Yankees.
Posada told Mo to go back on the mount to acknowledge the cheers of the fans who were clearly rooting for this important Yankee at that point. His wife and sons were in the crowd as well for this big day for their family.
“It felt strange,” Rivera said. “Nobody in front of me, nobody behind me; I never had that before.”
I was thinking Monday about the first time I became aware of Rivera. It was 1993. I was sitting in the Stadium office of then manager Buck Showalter. The Yankees weren’t very good in those days, so you spent more time looking at what was going on down in the minors. Mark Connor, then the Yankees pitching coach, showed me a statistics sheet with Rivera’s figures at Class A Greensboro underlined.
“Keep your eye on this kid,” Mark said. “He’s going to have to put on some weight, but all he does is throw strikes, and he’s coming off elbow surgery.”
From that point on, I regularly checked Rivera’s record when he was in the minors. He showed signs of what was to come with outstanding relief work in the American League Division Series against the Mariners in 1995. The next season, he was a legitimate AL Most Valuable Player candidate for his setup work for closer John Wetteland. Mo finished 12th in the voting, which was the highest ranking of any Yankees player that year, the first time in MVP voting history that a championship team did not have a player finish in the top 10.
I remember a player coming up to me the day after Rivera blew that save in Game 4 of the 1997 ALDS at Cleveland on the eighth-inning home run by Sandy Alomar Jr. Rivera had been calm after the game, reiterating that he would have thrown the same pitch but with different location.
“Wasn’t the closer a little too blasé about what happened yesterday?” the player asked me. “Some of the guys commented on that last night.”
The following spring, I mentioned to Goose Gossage what the player had said about Rivera.
“Whoever that guy was doesn’t know what he’s talking about,” Goose said. “That is exactly the attitude a closer has to have. Don’t second-guess yourself and move on to the next game.”
Rivera has done that over and over. I was on the official scoring crew for the 1999 World Series and was on the committee that voted for the MVP, which was Rivera. Mo came over to me during spring training the next season and said, “I was told you were one of the World Series MVP voters,” he said. “I wanted to thank you for your support.”
Rivera has been saying all season that 602 is merely a number and that it won’t change him. Good. It would be unfathomable for Mariano Rivera to be anything but what he is, baseball’s ultimate class act.