The cut fastball.
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That one pitch, from that one player, single-handedly changed the course of Major League Baseball over the past 17 seasons.
Mariano Rivera has been the anchor at the end of the New York Yankees bullpen for the last 17 years. There hasn’t been a more dominating or imposing pitcher in the game since his entry as a full-time player in 1996. He is the greatest closer of all time, and he did it with one pitch. A pitch he didn’t even try to do on purpose. “It was a gift from God” Mariano has said many times over the years. He discovered it while playing catch with Ramiro Mendoza. Thankfully for the Yankees, he and then-pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre, didn’t make any adjustments when Rivera told him his pitches were moving and he couldn’t control it. That one pitch helped the Yankees win five World Series and reach two others.
Since Mo took over as the Yankees closer in 1997, he has established himself as the greatest closing pitcher of all time. He has an MLB record 646 saves and counting. He has a postseason ERA of 0.70 and he has an MLB record 42 postseason saves.
Mariano Rivera has dominated baseball these past 17 seasons, and by the tone of his entrance music — “Enter Sandman” by Metallica — you would think he’s an arrogant/cocky player. But, it’s the complete opposite. Rivera has been one of the more classy players in MLB history. He doesn’t celebrate a save by untucking his jersey, by shooting an invisible arrow or by screaming or pumping his fist. He simply walks up to the catcher, gets the ball and shakes the catcher’s hand. The same routine, every game, the past 17 years. You can’t ask for a better player or person.
Speaking of “Enter Sandman,” it wasn’t the first choice for Rivera’s now famous entrance song. The Yankees tried other classic rock songs like “Paradise City” and “Welcome to The Jungle” by Guns N’ Roses, but they just didn’t work for them or the fans. Then one of the scoreboard workers, Mike Luzzi, brought in some CD’s and suggested “Enter Sandman” — it couldn’t have worked out better. It has been one of the most intimidating theme songs ever. When you hear the opening guitar riff, you know your team is almost assured the inevitable fate. Rivera alone is an intimidating force; add the heavy tune of “Enter Sandman” and you have yourself a guaranteed nightmare for opposing teams.
This whole season, Mariano Rivera has been on a farewell tour. Regardless of what team the Yankees have faced, every fan in attendance has stood up and clapped to show their respect when Mo enters the game. It’s touching when you see rival fans stand and applaud for Rivera, from Red Sox fans to Rangers fans; he has been shown such tremendous respect.
Along the way, he has received many gifts from other teams across baseball as they show their respect to the greatest closer who ever lived. Some of the gifts he received included: a custom sand sculpture from the Tampa Bay Rays, a rocking chair made of broken bats (Rivera is known for destroying a bat or two) from the Minnesota Twins, a pair of cowboy boots and cowboy hat from the Texas Rangers, a custom fishing pole from the Los Angeles Dodgers, an oil painting from the Los Angeles Angels, a gold record of Metallica’s “Enter Sandman,” a custom surfboard from the Oakland A’s and a few other awesome gifts from teams. My personal favorite is the “Chair of broken dreams” from the Twins; that was awesome.
One of the highlights of Mariano Rivera’s career took place this season. He entered in the eighth inning and pitched in his last ever All-Star Game. It was an incredibly touching moment. As he entered to his iconic “Enter Sandman,” every member of both All-Star teams and about every fan in attendance rose to their feet and gave Rivera a long round of applause. As members of both teams clapped and tipped their caps, Rivera stood there, took off his cap and soaked it all in. It was awesome to watch. The icing on the cake took place after Mo pitched a perfect eighth inning and the American League won. He was awarded the MVP of the All-Star Game. A fitting way to help Mo go out on top as the game’s best.
The Yankees have battled injuries all season and look to be in danger of missing the playoffs. They are fighting for their wild-card lives every game. It would be a shame if Mariano Rivera didn’t get a chance to add to his already amazing postseason numbers in his final year. He put off his retirement last season when he went down with a season-ending torn ACL. The resilient Rivera would not go out on bad terms. He will go out on his terms, when he’s ready to call it quits, the only way he would have it. Hopefully, the Yankees can turn things around and give Mo one last shot to win it all before he retires.
If Mariano never was signed as an amateur free agent by the Yankees in 1990, or if he never discovered the devastating cut fastball, do the Yankees win those five championships? Who knows. We do know there will never be another Mariano Rivera, another player with as much class and intimidation — there will never be another sandman.