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Rivera money in Yankees' bank
10/14/2004 5:19 PM ET
BOSTON -- Skip the opening statement. Bag the closing argument.

The gavel comes down every time you ask one of the Yankees about Mariano Rivera. They lay out his case as the greatest late-inning reliever of all time, and they don't want to hear about anyone else's credentials. Derek Jeter expresses it the best, speaking with conviction about his longtime teammate.

"Mo's the best closer of all time. That's it. That's the bottom line," Jeter said on Thursday. "There's no argument. You can't argue for anyone else. What he does -- especially at this time of the year -- has never been done before. I really don't think it will be done again."

It's not hyperbole. When you think about it, it's quite possible this run of dominance will never be equaled. There's one simple reason for that: It's not just Rivera's success we're talking about.

The Yankees have been in the thick of things nearly every year for the past decade, and all of those teams have shared one thing in common. Every time they needed a key out at the end of the game, Rivera was there to get it.

That includes the first two games of this season's ALCS, when Rivera was dealing with personal tragedy on top of professional challenges. His peers say that he's among the most mentally tough players in baseball, which gives him an unbeatable aura on the mound.

"Other teams have dominant closers," said Mel Stottlemyre, New York's pitching coach. "But we know that if we can give the ball to Mariano in a close game in the postseason, it may not be automatic -- he is human, after all -- but he's going to give us everything that he's got. He's been magical in the postseason."

"When you have a lead, it's pretty much over with," Jeter said. "I don't want to jinx him. He is human, and sometimes he's going to make mistakes."

Sometimes -- but not often. New York's closer has racked up a Major League-record 32 saves in the postseason, and he's one shy of Dennis Eckersley's career-best 11 for a League Championship Series.


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He's been named the World Series MVP and the ALCS MVP, the only reliever to ever notch both honors. In fact, you could argue that no individual Yankee has meant more to his team over the last decade.

"I'd say so. We wouldn't be here," said Jorge Posada, New York's catcher. "We wouldn't have gone to six World Series and won four without Mariano. There's no doubt about that. We play to get Mariano in the game."

If you think Posada and Jeter are biased, you might be right. Rivera's greatness is confirmed when you talk to players who faced him as opponents, only to become teammates later in their careers. Alex Rodriguez, for instance, said his opinion hasn't changed much.

"I thought he was the greatest of all time, and now I think he's the greatest of all time with the biggest heart of all time," he said. "He's like no one I've ever been around. ...He has the ability -- especially in a short series -- to dominate."

In a short series or a long season, the results are largely the same. Rivera, who had a career-high 53 saves this season, averaged 41 over the last eight years, leading the league three times over that span. In that relatively brief amount of time, he's vaulted all the way to eighth on the all-time save list, and he'll likely pass four more players in 2005.

That would put him one spot behind Eckersley, who ranks as Rivera's greatest competition for the mythical title of greatest reliever. The Eck won the Cy Young and the MVP Award, and he starred for one of the best teams of the late '80s and early '90s. He parlayed that success into a recent induction into the Hall of Fame, but he's still three rings behind Rivera.

This brings up the most amazing part of Rivera's success. He does it all by mainly relying on one predictable pitch -- his cutter, which breaks bats and defies physics with its late-breaking malice. His teammates speak about that fact in gushing tones, as if they still can't believe what they've seen hundreds of times.

"It gets boring when I talk about him," Posada joked. "He throws the same pitch and he's so strong when it comes to mental toughness. I don't think that there's anybody out there that compares. He's that tough."

Facts machine: Marvelous Mariano
What has Mariano Rivera meant to the Yankees? This is a short list of his many achievements in pinstripes
  • 336 saves -- most of any Yankee and eighth all time
  • Six All-Star berths in last eight seasons
  • 32 career postseason saves -- the most ever
  • Nine World Series saves -- the most ever
  • 10 saves in the ALCS -- one shy of the record
  • ALCS and World Series MVP -- the only reliever to win both
  • "Everyone knows what he's going to throw. He comes right at you," said Jeter. "He's not going to try to hurt you hitting his spot. He's going to challenge you."

    And most times, he's going to win that staring contest. Sure, people remember his high-profile postseason losses, like the one in Game Seven of the 2001 World Series and the blown save in Game Four of the 1997 ALDS.

    Can you name any others? Unless you're the one who got the hit, chances are you can't. Generally speaking, opponents remember the countless times he challenged them and came out on top. They think of him at his peak, because he's rarely given them any other memory to count on.

    "He's a weapon that's hard to describe," said Rodriguez. "I know that, playing against the Yankees, there's so much pressure to do something in the first five or six innings. You knew the hammer was going to come down on you in the eighth and ninth inning, the way the postseason works out."

    This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.


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