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Mariano Rivera, 'The Closer,' Caps Brilliant Career

Baseball's Greatest Relief Pitcher Bids Farewell

11/6/2013, 3 p.m.
Mariano Rivera (Courtesy photo)

Muhammad Ali enjoys a figurative copyright when it comes to the phrase “The Greatest,” so it may not be appropriate to apply that moniker to another 20th century athlete.

However, there isn’t much back and forth when someone calls recently retired New York Yankees pitcher Mariano Rivera the best ever on the diamond.

“There isn’t anyone who could argue that Mariano isn’t the greatest,” said former Washington Nationals manager Davey Johnson.

Joe Torre, considered one of the finest managers in the storied history of the Yankees, pretended to be outraged when it was suggested that his own success resulted simply because he had Rivera at the ready for late-game situations.

“He’s the greatest ever,” said Torre, 73. “It certainly isn’t a knock [against] the other guys, but he did it in New York, the biggest fishbowl in the world and in the postseason where everybody gets a chance to scrutinize.”

At 43, Rivera retired after 18 stellar seasons in the Bronx, helping the Yankees capture five of its record 27 world championships, seven league titles, and 12 division crowns, including nine in a row from 1998 to 2006.

During his career, Rivera posted an 82-60 record, a 2.21 earned run average, and 1,173 strikeouts. He appeared in 13 All-Star games, won five Rolaids Relief Man and three Delivery Man of the Year awards, World Series and League Championship Series Most Valuable Player award trophies, and last month, he walked away with the coveted Commissioner’s Historic Achievement Award.

For the man known as “The Closer,” the most eye-popping stat forever will be the record-shattering 652 career saves he posted over 18 seasons.

“I always believed in attacking the hitter,” Rivera said. “Just going out there and attacking, getting the job done and, thanks to God, I’ve been quite successful.”

Rivera’s accomplishments dazzle even more considering the superstar baffled hitter after hitter with just one specialized pitch: a cutter.

The pitch travels at about 92 mph, but prior to reaching home plate, the ball moves about one-foot off course, befuddling most batters.

“Rivera’s cutter is virtually unhittable, by consensus and by the numbers, but the wasteland of broken bats that litter the plate when he is on the mound is all the proof anyone needs,” said New York Magazine sportswriter Lisa Miller.

“A Rivera inning has thus been compared to a horror movie: The excitement is sharpened, not dulled, by the fact that everyone – the players, the ticket holders, and Rivera himself – knows exactly what’s coming,” Miller said.

“Consistency and predictability may be the dullest of virtues, but in Rivera, the anchor reliever for a nearly two-decade Yankees dynasty, consistency itself is manifest as a superpower,” she said.

Rivera’s status among the elite in the game’s history can never be questioned, solidified by the season-long farewell tour where opponents in every city honored the future first-ballot hall of famer by showering him with gifts and multiple pregame ceremonies.

If Rivera’s Yankee Stadium retirement ceremony wasn’t the best in history, it certainly ranked high on the list.