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Wednesday, June 30, 2010

'Mariano Rivera, King of the Closers,' NY Times Magazine

7/4/10, "Before the seventh game of the 2003 American League Championship Series with the Boston Red Sox, Mariano Rivera, the New York Yankees star who is widely considered the greatest relief pitcher in the history of baseball, said a prayer. Rivera, a deeply religious man, prays with his family before every home game. But this was a special prayer, which he delivered within himself, because the two teams, so evenly matched, had fought their way down to this final contest.
  • Rivera’s prayers remained unanswered until the bottom of the eighth inning, when, in one of the great comebacks in playoff history, the Yankees scored three runs against Boston’s ace, Pedro Martinez, to tie the game. Before heading for the mound, Rivera, the most stoical of athletes, had to leave the bullpen for a little shed nearby, where he proceeded, astonishingly, to weep.
“I feel a tremendous load on my shoulders,” Rivera recalled this past March, sitting in front of his locker at the Yankees’ spring-training camp in Tampa, Fla. Rivera was trying to convey something quite different from what that expression normally means. A closer, who generally comes into a game only in the highly pressurized ninth inning to finish off the opponent, must welcome the kind of burden most of us — and even some otherwise very effective pitchers ­— flee. “I know,” Rivera went on, “I am going to have a good opportunity to pitch.” Closers normally pitch one inning.
  • That night, Rivera navigated his way through a supremely tense ninth inning. And then the 10th. And then, with the score still tied, the 11th. “It was always a battle,” Rivera said. “It was a beautiful game.” In the bottom of the 11th, Yankees third baseman Aaron Boone won the game, and the series, with a home run. And if he hadn’t? “Tell you what,” Rivera said, flashing a most unworshipful grin, “I would have gone out there again.”
In his 16th year with the Yankees, Mariano Rivera, who is 40, has become a kind of living god of baseball. While his regular-season statistics are remarkable, in postseason play, where the pressure is at its highest, he is sui generis. He holds the lowest earned-run average in postseason history (0.74) among pitchers with at least 40 innings pitched. In 2009, when he was thought to be slowing down and yielding his place to the Red Sox phenom Jonathan Papelbon, he pitched 16 innings in postseason play and gave up one run, while extending his career postseason saves record to 39 as the Yankees won the World Series."...

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