I’ve written before that the only thing I remember about the first game I covered at old Yankee Stadium is that Mariano Rivera pitched the ninth. Whoever was sitting next to me in the press box — I actually think it was Pete — leaned over and said, “Watch this.” That’s when the gate opened and the music started playing. The man is amazing to watch, and last night was no different.
Not a save situation
Rivera hadn’t pitched since Sunday, and so Joe Girardi felt comfortable asking him to pitch two innings for the first time this season. He went into the game in the ninth inning and sent the side down in order on 18 pitches. Every one of them was a cutter. Only four of them were balls.
“People talk about his cutter, and his cutter is unbelievable,” Javier Vazquez said. “But his location is better than his cutter, I think. If he didn’t have that location I don’t think his cutter would be that successful. For me, the best guy I’ve ever seen locate pitches is him. He goes up and down, low and away. It’s unbelievable what he does.”
His fourth at-bat
Girardi never had any intention of pinch hitting for Rivera, and this time, the game’s greatest closer had the green light. “We had signs, what I wanted him to do,” Girardi said. “You’ve got a runner at third so go ahead and try to get a base hit.”
Rivera did try. In the fourth at-bat of his career he fouled off a pitch before grounding to first. “They didn’t tell me not to swing,” Rivera said. “I saw the ball real good. Not good reaction, but I saw it real good.”
Early trouble in the 10th
Rivera said he missed with only one of his pitches, the double to Justin Upton. Stephen Drew hit a good pitch for a single and an intentional walk loaded the bases.
“I was hoping, no more than one (run),” Alex Rodriguez said. “You think that they’re going to at least score one there, and then you hope that you’re able to score in the top of the 11th… Once he gets one out then you’re like, well, now a double play gets us out of it. I thought the biggest out was the first one.”
Memories of 2001
The setting was significant. Phoenix is the site of Rivera’s most famous collapse, and as luck would have it, Luis Gonzalez was in the crowd because the Diamondbacks announced during a pregame ceremony that his number was being retired. Rivera, of course, said it never crossed his mind.
“I started thinking about that,” Girardi said. “They showed Louie Gonzalez on the screen, and I’m well aware of what he looks like playing against him so much, so there were some thoughts in my head.”
Like that, poof, he’s gone
First a foul popup behind the plate, then an easy popup to third. Mark Reynolds strikes out a lot, and Rivera strikes out a lot of batters. It was over in an instant, and Francisco Cervelli was pumping his first like only Cervelli can.
“You know that he has the ability to strike people out, and you know that he can get the job done,” Girardi said. “He’s done it so many times in his career. Obviously we got in a tough situation there, but Mo was unbelievable.”
Here’s Rivera, understated as ever, talking about his night.