This past week, ESPN New York celebrated the career of Yankees closer Mariano Rivera with an oral history of baseball's all-time saves leader through the words of his teammates and opponents, as told to ESPN New York's Mike Mazzeo, Matt Ehalt and Andrew Marchand, and ESPN The Magazine's Louise Cornetta.
We've heard stories about Mo the prankster, Mo the teammate, Mo's cutter and Mo the archrival. Today, in the final installment of our series, we asked his current and former teammates to share their favorite on-field Mo-ment.
[He's] the reason why I have four World Series rings on my finger.
”-- Tino Martinez
Derek Jeter (Rivera's teammate for more than two decades): “My favorite Mariano Rivera moment is every time he’s on the mound and we won [a World Series]. So I’ve got five of them.”
Andy Pettitte (Rivera's teammate from 1995-2003, 2007-10 and 2012-13): “Obviously, just the [2003 American League Championship] series against Boston here when we were able to win [in Game 7], and he’s out on the mound laying down there [after Aaron Boone’s walk-off homer] and everybody went out to him -- that was pretty cool. I mean there have been so many great times. I know it was a special year when he took over the closer’s role from John [Wetteland], so that was cool. I know it was cool for us to win our first World Series [in 1996] and him being such a huge part of it, and then the one here at the [new] Stadium [in 2009] was huge. The first one in our new ballpark, and Mo had a huge postseason. He was always out there in the big moments closing the big games.”
Tino Martinez (Rivera's teammate from 1996-2001 and 2005): "[He's] the reason why I have four World Series rings on my finger."
Joe Girardi (Rivera's manager since 2008 and teammate from 1996-99): “I just remember during the 1999 World Series, it was almost like, I think he might’ve broke three of [Ryan] Klesko’s bats in one at-bat [in Game 4], and you’re going, ‘Oh my gosh.’ And then when we faced the Padres in the 1998 World Series, Ken Caminiti actually took a swing at a ball and fell down trying to get to it, and you could really see just how dominant he really was.”
Robinson Cano (Rivera's teammate since 2005): “You know what, I would say when he recorded save No. 602 [to set the all-time MLB record, on Sept. 19, 2011]. He saved the game and then went back again on the mound. That was one of the many good memories I have of Mo. That was a great experience to be in the same clubhouse as him, and then be on the field with him. The crowd went crazy. I mean, that was unbelievable. You’re a part of one of the most exciting moments in baseball because he’s the greatest of all time.”
Brett Gardner (Rivera's teammate since 2008): “The biggest moment was being able to stand out in center field behind him in the 2009 World Series. When you’re a little kid, you grow up dreaming of playing in the big leagues, and I don’t know if I can ever say I grew up dreaming of being in the World Series in Yankee Stadium in center field with Mariano Rivera on the mound, so it doesn’t get any better than that. It’s something you never forget. It’s almost surreal. Growing up a little kid in South Carolina, I never really dreamed I’d be able to be a part of that, so it’s really nice to be able to call him a teammate."
Phil Hughes (Rivera's teammate since 2007): “I guess since I’ve been here, it was 2009 -- more specifically, the last out of Game 6 [of the World Series] against the Phillies would be my favorite memory just on a selfish note. I remember he was unbelievable. I was scuffling in the playoffs. We didn’t really have an eighth-inning guy at that point or a seventh-inning guy, really, so he threw the seventh, eighth and ninth in a few games of that series and the ALCS. I guess when you have a lead in the later innings, there’s not really a guy you’d rather have out there than Mo throwing two to three innings at a time, so, obviously, that was a special year, a special moment, and I think everybody in this room is grateful that he was around during that time."
Mike Harkey (Yankees bullpen coach): “The best moment was when he got the last out for the World Series in 2009. He really never gets too high and never gets too low. So, I mean, that being said, the World Series games are always going to be the most memorable because that’s where you’re going to see him the most jubilant. And that’s because it’s all over and he has time to celebrate and take it all in. Any other time has just been another day at work, which sets him apart from a lot of the closers out there; there’s not much emotion out there, there’s not much fanfare, it’s just him doing his job.”
Hughes: "You see all those videos of the great teams in the early 2000s and his reaction to his first, second and third World Series, and seeing his reaction in ’09 was no different, even though it was old hat for him at that point. His emotion and joy, things don’t change, it never gets old. It was pretty unbelievable.”
Paul O'Neill (Rivera's teammate from 1995-2001): "A lot of times, people misrepresent what intensity is. He's one of the most intense competitors you'll ever see, but he did not show up people. He just did it in such a mild-mannered way that it looked easy. And believe me, those last five, six outs in a World Series game are anything but easy."
We've also gathered some favorite moments from his opponents, which you've seen in previous Testi-Mo-nials posts. But here are a few more, from some of the most iconic moments in baseball history.
Luis Gonzalez (former Diamondbacks outfielder, who had the game-winning hit off Rivera in Game 7 of the 2001 World Series): "It wasn’t fun [facing Rivera in that at-bat], I’ll tell you that. Someone who was a doing a story on me was telling me that in my career and in the World Series, I might have been like 0-for-5 against him. I picked the right moment to get that hit. He dominated me his whole career the five times that I saw him and that was the only time he didn’t. They say in baseball, it all evens out. Not with him, I don’t think so. This guy is just unbelievable and an incredible athlete with what he was able to accomplish."
A.J. Pierzynski (Texas Rangers catcher, on catching Rivera in the 2002 All-Star Game): “I was nervous when he came in, because it was a tie game. I was like, 'Man, I don’t want to mess this up here.' He came in and faced lefties, and it was guys who had never faced him before. They just didn’t know what to do. They see this guy on TV and you don’t realize what the ball does. I asked him since he only throws the cutter, what do I do? He’s like, 'Put down one and just indicate one side of the plate or the other and I’ll just throw it.' I was like, 'OK.' He did, and he got them all out.”
Gonzalez: "I was just hoping to get the ball out of the infield with the bases loaded. It was just a strange inning all in all with him making a bad throw to second. He hit Craig Counsell right after that. Just things that don’t normally happen had happened in that inning. Then for me to come up to the plate and be in that situation against a guy like that. Joe Torre brings the infield in for the simple fact that if I got jammed, I could have been able to beat out an infield hit. Being a left-handed hitter, he breaks a lot of bats. So he didn’t want that lazy little looper to get there. Fortunately for me, I was able to get it just far enough over the infield.”
If you look back in the past, things like that have harmed and turned players' careers around. For him, that was just a small glitch in the road. This guy is still dominant.
”-- Luis Gonzalez, on his series-winning hit off Rivera in the 2001 Fall Classic.
Kevin Millar (MLB Network analyst and former Red Sox, on his infamous walk in Game 4 of the 2004 ALCS): “You know, I went up there, and people ask me all the time, 'What were you thinking at that point?' As I said, I never minded facing Mariano. So I was looking for him to hopefully make a mistake middle-in. I was just going to try and hit a homer. That was the only thing on my mind was trying to hit a homer because we were down one run. So it wasn’t like I was trying to get on base and work a walk. He doesn’t walk anybody. If anything, he might hit you trying to throw a cutter in that just stayed in. I was trying to get a pitch to pull and hit a home run. Basically, the only swing I had was that 1-0 pitch that I fouled off down the left-field line. From that point on, it was ball two, ball three, ball four. The rest was him throwing balls, but that was my mindset.
Shane Victorino (Red Sox outfielder, who played for the Phillies in 2009): “I made the last out in the World Series against him in 2009. I remember him coming out. We knew what was on the line. To get the opportunity to face the best closer of all time in the biggest moment in the World Series, even though we ended up losing, to be able to remember and rekindle those kind of moments is special to think about getting that opportunity. Like I said, to face him in the biggest game and what you play for every year, even though we came up on the losing side, I’ll never forget that opportunity.
“I knew it was going to be a tough at-bat. We all know what he throws. You know you’re going to get the cutter, that you’re going to get that pitch. I remember it was a good at-bat. I went 10-plus pitches. Unfortunately, I grounded out to second to end it. I’m on the way to first base knowing what was on the line and watching them [celebrate]. I left it all on the field. Those kind of moments will be something I can think back on, how I got that opportunity to face him in a World Series."
Gonzalez: “Now that it’s 12years later, I still marvel at the fact that we were able to come back and beat them in the ninth inning. It was just an incredible World Series. To do it against a guy like that, I’ll tell you. ... If you look back in the past, things like that have harmed and turned players' careers around. For him, that was just a small glitch in the road. This guy is still dominant. He was very professional about it. I think that’s why most players respect him and honor him for everything he has been able to accomplish on the field. Just for his professionalism. ... When the game is over, when he wins, I’m sure he gets excited, but his demeanor and his calmness, [the] ice in his veins, it just looks like another day in the office for him. He just comes to work and is like, 'Let me carve up another couple players and get the save.'”