He is known by many names: the great one, the sandman, the hammer of god and me. Possibly the greatest closing pitcher in the history of the game of baseball, Rivera’s life has been far from easy.
From a youth in Panama to becoming the closing pitcher for the New York Yankees, Rivera always had the fighting spirit of an incredible athlete and an incredible person.
Reading: Where is mariano rivera from
early years and minor league career
rivera was born on November 1st. 29 of 1969 in Panama City, Panama. He grew up in the town of Puerto Caimito and finished high school at the tender age of 16. Without many material possessions and with a deep love for baseball, Rivera always found ways to play. he and his friends didn’t have regular baseball equipment like gloves, bats, or even decent baseballs to play with.
Instead, they would substitute makeshift gloves for milk cartons, use tree branches as bats, and tape broken baseballs together to throw and hit them.
after high school, rivera went to work for his father, mariano, sr., who earned money as a fisherman. Rivera never wished to take up the profession as a career, once describing the job as “too difficult.” he once had to abandon a sinking 120 pound commercial ship he was on board.
It was after this experience that he decided to leave the position of fisherman.
After fulfilling his dream of playing baseball, Rivera competed for the West Panama team in 1990 at the age of 20. What some may not know is that Rivera was a shortstop for the Panama team, but he volunteered to try his luck as a player. pitcher. Luckily for Rivera, Yankee scout Herb Raybourn noticed him at a game.
Even though Rivera was not a pitcher by trade, Raybourn noted his smooth throwing and 85-87 mph velocity. This forced the Yankees’ hand, and they signed Rivera to a deal with a $3,000 signing bonus.
it was time for rivera to leave panama for the first time. Barely knowing a word of English, he would leave for the United States. He was going to pitch for the Gulf Coast Yankees, and so began his meteoric rise to the top.
While breaking and rewarding Raybourn’s faith with an excellent pitch, Rivera went from 1990 to 1994 in the Gulf Coast League. He also suffered a setback for the first time in his career, as he needed Tommy John surgery to repair nerve damage in his elbow.
He didn’t let the ulnar collateral ligament damage slow him down as he came back with generous strength and made a full recovery. Rivera’s rehabilitation came during the 1992 expansion draft for the Florida Marlins and Colorado Rockies. Rivera was left unprotected during the expansion, but the Yankee gods were watching over him, and the Yankees, when he wasn’t drafted.
rivera released again in 1993, and in 1994 he stole the show. He rose from the Yankees’ Class A to AA and eventually to AAA, striking out 89 batters and walking just 20 over the course of the season. Now it was time for Rivera to take the last step forward in his baseball life.
coming to the show and the beginning of the yankee dynasty
With rivera’s stellar numbers posted in the minor leagues, the yankees had no choice but to call him up to the majors in 1995. as a rookie, rivera was initially slated to be a starting pitcher for the yankees. In ’95, he made 10 starts and nine relief appearances.
but his place on the team was not a sure thing, as the yankees were contemplating trading rivera to the detroit tigers for david wells. The Bronx Bombers were unsure about having a 25-year-old pitcher who underwent major reconstructive arm surgery on their team, but opted to keep the young pitcher after a brilliant show on July 4.
Suddenly, Rivera began throwing 95-97 mph fastballs and threw a two-hit shutout against the Chicago White Sox. Rivera beat out 11 batters in that game, cementing his spot on the roster.
Overall, in his first campaign, he saw mixed success, going 5-3 with a 5.51 era. Rivera certainly took the bulk of it in his first year, allowing a total of 11 home runs. but his numbers showed potential. he struck out 51 batters in the 67 innings he pitched. With somewhat lackluster numbers in his first season, Rivera was ready for the Yankee success ride.
Following the 1995 midseason, the Yankees underwent drastic changes for 1996. With new manager Joe Torre, new first baseman Tino Martinez, former six-time batting champion Wade Boggs and established pitcher David Cone joining the team, the Yankees were poised for a big run in 1996.
Rivera’s role had been reversed in ’96, as he was no longer needed as a starter. Instead of starting, Rivera found himself setting up then-Yankees closer John Wetteland, usually pitching in the seventh and eighth innings.
the pitching staff developed a unique formula for winning ballgames. if the starter pitched six innings, rivera would man the seventh and eighth, and wetteland was the man in the ninth.
The “6-2-1” strategy proved to be working, as the Yankees won 29 of the 31 games the duo played together. On top of that, the team was 70-3 when winning after the sixth inning in 1996, which also showed that the rivera/wetteland tandem was as effective as ever.
rivera pitched 107.2 innings in ’96, going 8-3 with a 2.09 ERA. he also struck out an incredible 130 batters, the most he would strike out in his career.
At one point in the season, he had pitched 26 straight scoreless innings, including 15 straight hitless innings. he only allowed one home run all year, a stark contrast to the 11 he gave up the year before. Rivera finished third in voting for the American League Cy Young Award in 1996. A season like that could only end one way.
for the outstanding season the yankees put together in 1996, they defeated the atlanta braves in six games to win the world series for the first time since 1978. rivera pitched 5 2/3 innings in the 1996 fall classic, with an era of 1.59. Rivera experienced sweet success for the first time in his baseball career, and it was just the beginning.
assume the closer role and continue the dynasty
When Wetteland left the Yankees at the end of the ’96 season, there was really only one man to succeed him.
Rivera stepped into the role of Yankee closer in 1997, but the transition wasn’t as smooth as everyone thought it would be. he blew three of his first six save opportunities, even admitting that he wasn’t comfortable with the closer’s role.
He finally figured himself out and settled in, earning his first of nine All-Star selections. he went 6-4 with 43 saves, along with a modest 1.88 ERA. It was in ’97 that Rivera began using his signature entrance theme, Metallica’s Enter Sandman, which he still uses to this day.
Also in ’97, he began perfecting his signature pitch, the sliced fastball that slips past right-handed hitters and runs to lefties.
“I’m not used to seeing the ball go where she wants it to go,” Rivera told the Daily News of his 2005 cutter. “As a pitcher, I like to be… I don’t want to say perfect, but I want to know what the ball.”
the yankee team, however, did not have much success in 1997. in the american league division series against the cleveland indians, rivera allowed a game-tying home run to sandy alomar, jr. The Yankees were four outs from advancing to the American League Championship Series, but fell into misery. Unable to earn a ticket back to the World Series to defend their title, the Yankees headed into the offseason.
1998 would be an amazing year for the Yankees. Similar to 1996, the Yankees made offseason acquisitions, replenished their pitching and offense, and went on to have one of the most unrealistic years in baseball history. The Yankees won a mind-boggling 114 games during the regular season, a feat that gave them credibility as the best team in baseball.
Rivera put together a good year for himself, going a perfect 3-0 with a 1.91 ERA and saving 36 games for the Yankees. With an outstanding record, the Yankees swept the San Diego Padres in the World Series, earning their second world championship in three years.
and it would only get better from then on.
in 1999, the yankees would record another stellar year, and rivera was once again at the forefront. He led the American League with 45 saves, maintained a 4-3 regular season record and posted a 1.83 ERA. he also won the acclaimed rolaids reliever award, given to the best relief pitcher in the league at the end of the season. he would go on to win the award three other times in his career.
The Yankees would defend their World Series crown again in 1999, facing the team they had defeated in ’96, the Braves. Rivera dazzled in the Fall Classic, going 1-0 with an 0.00 era in 4 2/3 innings and notching two saves in the process. He was also given the great honor of being named the World Series Most Valuable Player.
The yankees’ fortunes would continue to multiply in 2000. Although posting their worst record during the dynasty, 87-74, the yankees found themselves atop the AL East standings. Rivera went 7-4 in 2000, closing the door on the Yankees 36 more times. he achieved an era of 2.85, the highest since 1995.
The Yankees would return to the World Series once again, this time against their hated Queens rivals, the New York Mets. Rivera was a record-breaking 0-0 in the 2000 World Series, and posted a 3.00 era, the highest of any Fall Classic he has played in his career.
However, he got two more saves in the World Series as the Yankees crushed the Mets in five games. Rivera was on the mound for the third time of his career as the Yankees clinched the final game of the Fall Classic.
the fall of the Yankee dynasty
Going into the 2001 season, Rivera had so many accolades under his belt. four world series rings, three all-star game selections to that point, one world series mvp, and one rolaids relay award.
but it wasn’t over.
rivera returned in 2001 and scored 50 saves, setting a career high. Even though he had a losing record of 4-6 with a 2.34 era, the Yankees still managed to find success behind him and masterful pitching from him.
although baseball was not important during the fall of 2001 due to the tragedy that the united states faced in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the yankees tried to keep up the spirits of all new yorkers by reaching the world series for the fourth consecutive year. this time they faced a relatively new club, the arizona diamondbacks.
The Fall Classic was like a tennis match as the Yankees struggled early on and lost the first two games. but the Empire struck back in the next three, winning the games at home in front of the Yankee crowd. But with Rivera on the mound in game seven and the Yankees looking to capture their fifth title in six years, the baseball world spun off its axis.
rivera was penalized in the eighth inning with the yankees leading 2-1. he struck out to the side in the eighth, but wasn’t himself in the ninth. he ended up blowing the lead and the game when the diamondbacks took the yankees thunder. Despite the loss, Rivera was happy the Yankees lost for a unique reason.
if the yankees had won the world series, his teammate, enrique wilson, would have flown back to the dominican republic aboard american airlines flight 587, a flight that crashed on november 10. 12, shortly after the world series ended on November 12. 4.
“I’m glad we lost the world series,” Rivera said. “means I still have a friend.”
After the disappointing but divine loss to the D’Backs in 2001, the Yankees looked to make up for the loss in 2002. Rivera, however, was plagued by injuries, which limited him to just 46 innings and 28 saves. The Yankees failed to get past the first round of the playoffs for the first time since the 1997 season and were eliminated early by the Anaheim Angels.
Groin injuries halted the start of Rivera’s 2003 season, but the Yankees still kept a cool head. With the first month to go, Rivera returned to the team on May 1 and quickly looked like old mo. he had 40 saves on the year, posting a 1.66 era with a 5-2 record.
the yankees came back to get out of the first round of the postseason and met their archrivals, the boston red sox, in the alcs. With the series winner going to the Fall Classic, the Yankees and Sox squared off for a chance to play in the World Series.
with the alcs tied up in three games apiece, rivera took his game to a new level in game seven. In what is believed to be his best playoff performance, he pitched three innings keeping the Red Sox off the board, en route to Aaron Boone hitting the glorious walk-off home run to send the Yankees to the World Series and crush to the red sox. dreams.
Awarded another honor, Rivera was named the 2003 ALCS MVP, adding to his resume.
no one is perfect
The Yankees did not win the 2003 World Series, as they were outscored in six games by the Florida Marlins. However, Rivera did have one save in four innings with four strikeouts, adding to his already exceptional postseason numbers.
The Bronx Bombers would be back in form in 2004, as would Rivera. He surpassed his career-high save mark, recording 53 saves, the most since the 2001 season. He posted a 4-2 record with a 1.94 ERA. His efforts earned him rolaids reliever honors for the third time in his career.
The Yankees would go on to win the American League East Division title for the seventh straight year in 2004 and, as fate would have it, faced the Red Sox in a rematch of the 2003 ALCS.
The Bronx Bombers made a statement in the series, winning the first three games over Boston, including a vicious 19-8 thrashing in Game 3.
Needing just one more win to advance to the World Series, Rivera took the mound in Game 4 with the Yankees holding a narrow 4-3 lead over Boston.
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With the best closer in baseball on the mound, the Yankees were almost certain to return to the World Series.
However, the Red Sox had other plans, as Kevin Millar led off the inning with a walk. Speedy pinch runner Dave Roberts replaced Milar and quickly stole second from Rivera.
Then with Bill Mueller at home plate, Rivera’s cutter didn’t cut.
Mueller singled up the middle through the infield hole to score Roberts, tying the game at four. Boston would later win the game on the strength of a David Ortiz home run.
“I’m not perfect and today was difficult,” Rivera said after the match. “We should have won that game, but I didn’t do my job. it was just a pitch, but there was no room for error.”
making history, the red sox miraculously came back and defeated the yankees 4 games to 3 in the alc and won the world series for the first time in 86 years.
Looking to put the ugly end of the 2004 season behind them, the Yankees did what they always do. They signed veteran free agent Randy Johnson for 2005, hoping to make up for a lack of pitching the year before.
The Yankees joined the Red Sox for opening day ceremonies in 2005, and when the Red Sox received their rings, the Boston crowd received Rivera with relative warmth, reminding him of his struggles on the 2004 ALCS.
“When the crowd cheered me on, I knew it wasn’t mean, it was sarcastic,” Rivera said. “I just had to take it with class. I took off my hat and laughed.”
Rivera started poorly against the Red Sox in 2005, blowing his first two save opportunities. but he bounced back pretty well, converting a career-high 31 straight save opportunities and notching 43 saves. He only allowed one run in away games all year, posting a career low of his own at 1.38 and receiving DHL Deliveryman of the Year honors.
rivera had a decent year in 2006, continuing to add his future achievements to the hall of fame. Going into the All-Star break, he had a 1.76 ERA and was picked for his eighth All-Star team.
white sox manager ozzie guillén, who led the american league in the mid-summer classic, assured in advance that rivera would be the man who would close the contest. Rivera saved the All-Star game in 2006, making him the second pitcher along with Dennis Eckersley to do so three times.
On July 16, 2006, Rivera recorded his 400th career save, becoming only the fourth pitcher in baseball history to do so. he converted a two-inning save against the White Sox at home. he finished the year with a 5-5 record, a 1.80 ERA and 34 saves. he once again received the dhl delivery man of the year award.
2007 turned out to be Rivera’s weakest statistical year to date and he got off to a rocky start. he blew his first two save opportunities, dropping two games and allowing nine runs in 7 2/3 innings. he also had career lows in earned runs with 25, hits with 68 and was at 3.15. Despite the negativity, he still closed the door 30 times for the Yankees in 34 attempts.
Although 2007 was not Rivera’s best year, he bounced back, as he always does, in 2008. In the final season at Yankee Stadium, he went 6-5 with a 1.40 era, recording 39 saves, sending Yankees fans with fond memories of their closer. on sep. On January 15, he recorded his 479th career save, surpassing Lee Smith on the all-time regular season saves list.
Following the 2008 season, Rivera needed minor arthroscopic surgery to treat inflammation in his throwing shoulder. he is currently progressing and pitching this spring, preparing for the 2009 season at the new yankees stadium.
“He’s the best I’ve ever met. not just the ability to pitch and perform under pressure, but the calm he brings to the clubhouse. he is very important to us because he is a special person.”
These words were spoken by Joe Torre, Rivera’s longtime Yankees coach.
four times champion of the world series. a world series mvp. an alks mvp. Multiple pitching accolades. owns the lowest postseason era of his career. nine stellar selections. in the list of all times for saves. and he is one man.
and he’s a great man. the man who will become the greatest closer in the history of the game. the man who will always be remembered for his courageous performances in pinstripes. the man who was mutilated on the pitcher’s mound and buried at the bottom of the dog pile during postseason and world series celebrations.
rivera will also be the last man to wear a no. 42 on the back of him. when baseball was universally retired no. 42 in 1997 in honor of Jackie Robinson, Rivera wore the number. Major League Baseball declared that players already wearing the number were “exempt” and allowed to continue wearing them. rivera is the last man to wear the number, and no one will wear it again.
Sep. On January 28, 2008, Rivera threw the final pitch on the original ground at Yankee Stadium. He retired Orioles second baseman Brian Roberts on a groundout.
eckersley once called rivera “the best there is, hands down.”
trevor hoffman, the only closer in baseball history with more saves than rivera, once said, “he will be remembered as the greatest reliever in the game in history.”
call it what you want: mo. the Sandman. the best. the hammer of god no matter what his name is, he has had the kind of career a baseball player can only dream of. the kind of race that holds a special place in Cooperstown.
looking at it objectively and from a complete point of view, how can you say that mariano rivera is not the best that ever existed?
and it’s not over yet.