Archive for Friday, October 17, 2003

As usual, New York banks on Rivera

October 17, 2003


— For New York Yankees manager Joe Torre, reliever Mariano Rivera is the ultimate safety net, a premier closer who trims games from nine innings to seven.

Get the lead after seven and Rivera will take care of other two. In Game 7 of the AL championship series against Boston Thursday night, Rivera came in with the game tied and gave Torre three stellar innings.

Rivera won the game and the MVP of the series as the Yankees beat the Red Sox, 6-5, in 11 innings to advance to the World Series for the fifth time in six years.

Rivera is deceptively slender, equipped with the complete arsenal of pitches that makes him the premier playoff closer. He saved two of New York's three victories in the division series against Minnesota and two more in the pennant playoff against Boston before winning the clincher. He bordered on the unhittable, allowing one run and five hits in 12 innings.

The three-inning stint was new for Rivera. He last went this long way back in 1996, when he was a setup man, not a closer. But he hardly seemed disturbed by it, sailing through them, allowing two hits and striking out three batters.

This has become routine stuff for Rivera. He sailed through the regular season with a 5-2 record and a career-low 1.66 ERA. There were 40 saves in 46 opportunities, pushing his career total to 283, a franchise record. And that was after he missed the first 25 games because of a groin injury and had just four saves in the Yankees' first 59 games.

Rivera did not allow a run in his final 15 regular-season appearances and saved all 16 opportunities he had from Aug. 19 through the end of the season.

He saved Roger Clemens' 300th victory, the 29th time he saved a win for Clemens. So with the Rocket pitching Game 7 against Boston Thursday night, it figured that Rivera would show up at the end.

In the last five seasons, the soft-spoken right-hander has 199 saves, the most in the majors.

Rivera, who will be 34 next month, signed with the Yankees out of Panama in 1990, and by the time the team started its current run of nine straight postseason appearances, he was in the bullpen. In 1996, Torre's first year as manager, he was a setup man for John Wetteland, who saved all four wins in that World Series.

When Wetteland left as a free agent that winter, Rivera inherited the closer's role. There was some doubt that he could carry that burden. He lacked the intimidating presence of previous Yankees closers like Goose Gossage, Sparky Lyle and Wetteland. What he had was a devastating array of pitches.

He blew a lead in Game 4 of the first round in 1997 against Cleveland, and the Yankees went home early.

But he quickly grew into the closer's role, and has been at his best in the postseason.

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