Mariano Rivera's still got it
Veteran closer is 22 saves away from becoming all-time leader
Mariano Rivera has been in the business of saves for a long time. So when a distressed church near his home fell into disrepair, it was the perfect opportunity for one of the best closers in baseball to come to the rescue.
The North Avenue Church in New Rochelle, N.Y., was built in 1907, and at one time housed the largest Presbyterian congregation in the country. But the building has fallen on hard times, and the city cannot afford to refurbish it. That's where Rivera, a man of faith, stepped in.
The Yankees reliever has arranged for his church, Refugio de Esperanza, to purchase the old church for $1 and will spearhead its reconstruction. It will be a gift from the heart from one of baseball's best closers.
"The moment I saw the church, I fell in love," Rivera said.
When the New Rochelle church is rebuilt, it will become a permanent home for Rivera's 90-member congregation, and he said he will be a frequent presence there. "I will be there a lot," Rivera said. "Baseball is my job. But baseball will stop one day. This is what I want to do then."
The Yankees hope they will not have to face that day for some time. At age 41, Rivera remains one of baseball's premier relievers, posting 20 or more saves for the 15th time this season, tying Trevor Hoffman's record. He reached the 580 plateau this season and trails only Hoffman, who finished his career with 601 saves.
In the week before the All-Star break, Rivera threw a scare into the Yankees when he reported a sore triceps muscle in his pitching arm. The closer tried to calm everyone, saying it had happened before and was nothing major. And after a couple of days off, he was ready to resume the Hoffman chase.
Rivera was in the early stages of his career with the Yankees when he stumbled on to the pitch that would make him a premier pitcher. He was playing catch with another pitcher, Ramiro Mendoza, when he threw the ball with a slightly different grip resulting in a dramatically different twist. It caught Mendoza by surprise.
"What was that?" Mendoza asked.
Say hello to the cutter.
It is a pitch Rivera came across by accident, but one that he understandably has embraced. The pitch mirrors a fastball for about 59 feet. Then it changes direction, cutting in to the left-handed hitter and away from the right-handed hitter. The action on Rivera's cutter comes late, and it often freezes the hitter.
"I call that a miracle pitch," Rivera said. "I didn't have that pitch before. It came as a miracle. I was just trying to get people out. I didn't expect it to be this great."
The cutter is Rivera's out pitch. He will mix in fastballs, sometimes two-seamers or four-seamers, to keep hitters honest. But when all is said and done, if the hitter can't handle the cutter, he's not going to find success against Rivera. Ken Griffey Jr. once said that Rivera has two kinds of cutters: "One that's good and one that's devastating."
He became the 15th pitcher in Major League history to reach 1,000 games earlier this season and is the only player ever to play in 1,000 games all with the same team. He, Derek Jeter and Jorge Posada have been Yankees teammates for 17 years, a unique accomplishment in the four major sports where no trio of players has been together for more than 15 years. And while Posada and Jeter have experienced some struggles this season, Rivera remains at the top of his game.
At the annual Old Timer's Day ceremonies at Yankee Stadium, Rivera was surrounded by former teammates who've moved into retirement. The reliever, joking around, asked to be introduced with Tino Martinez, Bernie Williams, Darryl Strawberry and the others.
Sorry, Mo. That's not happening just yet, not while baseball's best cutter is still spinning at full speed.
Hal Bock is a freelance writer based in New York.
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.