Comic relief: Mariano bats for himself
Told not to swing, closer does anyway, flying out to center
ATLANTA -- Mariano Rivera never bothered joining the rest of his Yankees teammates for batting practice with Interleague Play approaching, figuring that there would be almost no chance of actually stepping to the plate in a game.
And when that opportunity presented itself on Wednesday, Rivera jammed on a borrowed batting helmet and listened to explicit instructions from the bench not to swing. The 39-year-old closer nodded his head, promising that he wouldn't swing.
But Rivera knew that, in the final years of his Major League career, this at-bat in the final inning of an 8-4 Yankees victory over the Braves would probably be his last. So Rivera broke that promise, putting a solid cut on reliever Manny Acosta's 0-1 fastball and lining out to center fielder Nate McLouth.
"I've got to take a swing," Rivera said. "I apologized to my pitching coach and manager, but I had to do it."
Rivera almost seemed embarrassed to discuss his at-bat, which left the bases loaded in the top of the ninth inning as pitching coach Dave Eiland and acting manager Tony Pena looked on.
"It's not what you really want to see, but he had quite a swing," said Yankees manager Joe Girardi, who was ejected in the sixth inning. "When he hit it, I thought we were going to get a few more runs on the board."
Rivera much preferred to talk about locking down a four-out save in New York's victory, the 498th of his Major League career and his first game action since June 16.
"I was getting impatient, because definitely I wanted to help, but if I don't have the opportunities, it's going to be hard," Rivera said.
His teammates, however, seemed to enjoy the at-bat much more. All of the Yankees sprang to the top step of the dugout to watch Rivera hit, coming after New York already scored twice in the ninth inning.
Told that his No. 6 spot in the lineup was approaching, Rivera was given Alfredo Aceves' helmet and a Cody Ransom bat. Melky Cabrera came by to offer his batting gloves and also some friendly advice, telling Rivera that there are four balls and three strikes in an at-bat.
Rivera didn't exactly need the primer -- he had hit once before in a regular-season game, striking out on June 20, 2006, against the Phillies' Ryan Franklin at Citizens Bank Park. Rivera is also 0-for-3 in postseason batting appearances, when former manager Joe Torre would tell him not to swing, though he said the Franklin at-bat was the last time he'd even picked up a bat.
Approaching the plate, Braves catcher Brian McCann asked Rivera if this was his first at-bat.
"I said, 'No, it's my second one,'" Rivera said, grinning. "He threw a fastball and my pitching coach and manager told me not to swing. I heard that from Mr. T. also before. Of course, I did not do that, which is not acceptable. But thank God, we won."
Acosta was a familiar face for Rivera -- a fellow Panamanian, they first met in 1998 and have worked out together in the offseason.
"All I was thinking was throwing a fastball there," Acosta said. "I didn't want to walk him."
After Rivera sent the ball in the air, the Yankees laughed it up in the dugout, and kept talking about it later in the evening.
"Wow," Alex Rodriguez said. "If that ball lands, we would have all been in trouble for a long time, because he would not have let us hear the end of that. That was a pretty good swing."
"That was good -- for a guy that doesn't hit on the field?" Robinson Cano said. "That's what happens when you've got skills."
If this is how Rivera's big league batting career ends, he seems fine with it. The more important aspect of Wednesday's game came with him on the mound, striking out all four Braves he faced to give the Yankees a much-needed victory.
"Definitely, we needed to win," Rivera said. "Hopefully, this carries on. Hopefully, we keep doing what we did today."
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.