When Mariano Rivera had pitched his one inning on Sunday, Russell Martin was just like everyone else: He knew what to expect, but he still marveled at a 42-year-old who hadn’t pitched a game in months hitting his spots consistently in a spring training game.
“The command he has is second to none,” Martin said. “There’s only one other guy I can think of that has this command, is Greg Maddux. He gets tunnel vision, and I pretty much feel like it’s just me and him in the ballpark when he’s pitching. He lets nothing affect him, ever.”
Martin is qualified to make the comparison because he was behind the plate in Los Angeles for Maddux’s final season. Martin caught Maddux’s final regular-season game — a six-inning, no-walk gem – and he caught Maddux’s final postseason appearance out of the Dodgers bullpen in the NLCS.
“That’s a good way to put it,” said Tony Pena, who had 26 career at-bats against Maddux and has watched a lot of Rivera from the bench. “Those two guys, you see Maddux pitch, nice and smooth. You see those guys that throw strikes and command both sides of the plate. Their body didn’t even move. They’re just nice and easy and just throw the ball right wherever they want to.”
Martin said there was one thing that stood out about Rivera once he was watching from behind the plate instead of on television.
“His focus,” Martin said. “A lot of people have ability that you can recognize how hard they throw, or how good their breaking balls are. With him, it’s just focus. How he gets locked in and nothing bothers him. He obviously has a good cutter, but it’s the fact he can put it where he wants to almost every time. And when he does miss, it’s just barely missing. That’s going on up here in his head. That’s what impresses me the most about Mo, the mental toughness that he has and the focus that he has.”
Associated Press photo