Mariano Rivera shakes off the emotion to throw a perfect inning
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TAMPA, Fla. -- If Mariano Rivera had been emotionally spent and his performance had suffered a bit as a result, it would have been understandable.
After all, several hours earlier, the 43-year-old closer announced his intention to retire at season's end, with the team hierarchy and all his teammates watching.
Then again, if Rivera had given in to emotion and hadn't been quite as effective, that would have been the surprise.
So Rivera, making his spring training debut, trotted onto the field Saturday afternoon, accompanied by "Enter Sandman'' and a loud standing ovation, in the fifth inning. Then he did what he's done so many times in his career:
Quickly shut down the opposition.
"Everything went well,'' Rivera said after a 1-2-3, 15-pitch inning in which he struck out two. "I felt real good, pushing off the leg. I wasn't holding anything [back] . . . I'm happy with the results.''
Rivera said "a few pitches I was pulling the ball,'' but aside from the closer himself, it was difficult to find anyone who didn't find his outing a work of near perfection.
"89-91 [mph] with his usual cut," one opposing team scout said. "Unreal. If anything, his velo [velocity] is ahead of schedule. Amazing.''
Said Joe Girardi: "Two strikeouts, threw strikes, pretty much what we're used to seeing from Mo. It wasn't anything different.''
Rivera, who will next take the mound Wednesday, called the day "overwhelming'' emotionally. "But it's great,'' he said. "You know where you've been and what you've overcome. Being in this position, it's wonderful. I can't ask for more than that.''
Where Rivera had been was recovering from a torn right ACL, an injury suffered on the warning track in Kansas City last May 3 while he was shagging fly balls.
Saturday marked the closer's first time on a mound against another team since last April 30, when he notched his fifth save of 2012 against the Orioles at the Stadium. The knee injury came three days later.
Although Rivera hoped to test the knee by having to come off the mound to field the ball or cover first base, he declared his outing "great."
"It was great to be on the mound again,'' he said. "It feels wonderful. It's good to be back on the mound. I don't take it for granted, almost a whole year without being on the mound. Now I have a chance. I have to enjoy it.''
Rivera said the long ovation was appreciated. "The most beautiful fans in baseball,'' he said of Yankees fans. "They know about the game, their players. Felt good to come back and have that reception. But I'm bad with that because I don't know what to do with that. I try not to pay attention and go to my business. I don't know how to respond to the fans and things like that. When the time comes, we'll deal with that.''
It's something, home and away, he'll likely deal with most of the season.