3/9/2013 4:50 P.M. ET
Mo's foes unite to praise Yankees' iconic closer
By Zack Meisel / MLB.com
Opposing hitters might be happy to see Mariano Rivera hang up his cleats, but even the victims of the Rivera's oft-unhittable cutter can appreciate what the iconic Yankees closer has accomplished during his career.
Rivera, 43, announced Saturday that the 2013 campaign will be his last, leaving Major League Baseball's all-time saves leader one final summer to stymie batters in his No. 42 uniform.
"I think everyone looks up to him, whether you're a pitcher or a hitter," said Angels closer Ryan Madson. "I look up to him just for the way he goes about his business, what he's done, his accomplishments and the length of time he's been dominant."
A 12-time All-Star, Rivera has tallied 608 career saves, seven more than longtime Padres closer Trevor Hoffman and 130 more than Lee Smith, who ranks third on the all-time list.
Dodgers manager Don Mattingly, however, remembers Rivera as a starting pitcher. Discounting a rehab appearance in 2002, 67 of Rivera's 102 Minor League outings came in a starting role. He made 10 starts for the Yankees in 1995, Mattingly's final big league season in New York.
"I remember him getting hit the second time through the order. He didn't seem to have enough," Mattingly said. "They sent him down and when he came back, it's funny. A young kid, you don't really notice, then he gets into the playoffs and he's mowing down people and you start paying attention. He went down to the Minor Leagues and came back a reliever."
Rivera has routinely saved his best for the October spotlight. In his 18 years, the Yankees have qualified for the postseason on 17 occasions, claiming five World Series titles. They fell short of the playoffs in 2008. In 2012, Rivera watched his teammates fall in the American League Championship Series after his season ended in May when he tore a ligament in his knee while fielding fly balls before a game in Kansas City.
Over 96 postseason appearances, spanning 141 innings, Rivera has yielded only 11 earned runs, for a 0.70 ERA.
Rivera first started to craft his reputation as a postseason marvel on the mound during the first chapter of his career, when he served as a multiple-inning bullpen workhorse in front of closer John Wetteland. He assumed the ninth-inning role in 1997, when he fashioned a 1.88 ERA to go along with 43 saves. He has posted a sub-2.00 ERA in 11 of his 18 big-league seasons.
"It's amazing how long he has been able to do it," said Rangers closer Joe Nathan. "Anytime you put up numbers like that, it means you've been doing it a long time and have a good team behind you. He'll be the first to say how fortunate he is to have had good teams and good teammates."
For nearly two decades, Rivera has sawed bats in half with his infamous cutter, a pitch that typically sits in the low-90s and seemingly jams every batter in its path.
Cubs manager Dale Sveum, who identified Rivera as "one of the top 10 players in the history of the game," spent the 1998 season as the Yankees' bullpen catcher and learned first-hand the nuances of his cutter.
"You don't see that kind of velocity that looks like a four-seamer that can move that far. It's a unique pitch that, as far as I know, there's only one player who's ever been able to master it. Basically, for the most part, that's the only thing he really threw."
Sveum finally got the chance to step into the batter's box against Rivera during a 1999 Spring Training tilt.
"I stood on the plate normally, and I said, 'I'm going to get way off the plate,'" Sveum said. "I saw the first [pitch] and I was like, 'Whoa, I'm just swinging.' It broke my bat and I blooped it into center for a single. Your mind registers a four-seam fastball, but it's cutting like a slider."
Rangers right fielder Nelson Cruz, is, like many hitters, just relieved he won't have to encounter the pitch for much longer.
"I like to be with him, not so much against him," said Cruz, who has one hit and three strikeouts in six career at-bats against Rivera. "But I love to watch him. I like his demeanor. He is so calm and I admire the kind of person he is as a human being."
Rivera has earned the respect of his peers through his temperament on and off the field, not just for the accolades he has accumulated. Closers are often known for their eccentric personalities or routines atop the hill. Rivera, however, has deflected as much attention from himself as possible throughout his career, even expressing during his retirement announcement on Saturday a desire to be remembered as a player who "tried to make others better and didn't think of himself."
"He's such a class act, his demeanor, his professionalism, the way he treats people, his beliefs," Mattingly said. "He's just solid, the way he's handled everything, when he wins big games, when he loses, everything still with dignity. He's really, obviously, special."
Said former Yankees infielder Luis Sojo: "He was an excellent teammate, and I respect him a lot."
Rivera's fellow closers certainly look up to him as well. Texas right-hander and former Royals closer Joakim Soria and Philadelphia's Jonathan Pabelbon both said they look forward to witnessing the Panama native's MLB farewell tour.
"He's the greatest closer in the game," Soria said. "His career was great to follow. … It will be great to see him pitch this year. He's the best."
Said Papelbon: "It's definitely going to be fun to watch him this last year knowing it is his last year. Maybe when he's done, he'll show me where that fountain of youth is in Panama and I can go find it."
Rivera proposed that the ideal ending to his storybook career would place him on the mound, in position to secure a sixth and final World Series ring. He has tossed the World Series-winning pitch four times during his career. Should the Yankees get to that point again in 2013, few doubt Rivera's ability to shut the door.
"He set the standard by which all other closers are compared," said Red Sox manager John Farrell. "I think it's remarkable that if you look at video from probably 15 years ago to now, you're going to see the same exact delivery. Just a great athlete who has had a Hall of Fame career. He basically revolutionized the pitch and the fact that it's such a known weapon for him, his command of it, his strike throwing ability to both sides of the plate -- just a model of consistency."