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Torre never doubted Mariano Rivera in early days as closer

Mariano Rivera gets congratulations from Joe Torre after

Mariano Rivera gets congratulations from Joe Torre after the Yankees defeated the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. (July 21, 2007) Credit: Newsday/Paul J. Bereswill

With a total of seven saves under his belt, Mariano Rivera strode onto the Yankee Stadium mound on April 8, 1997 with a one-run lead in the bottom of the ninth inning against the Angels.

And he blew the save.

Three days later, during his next appearance -- also at the Stadium against the Angels -- he blew the save again.

So, in those early days, before Rivera compiled his record 652 career saves, did his then-manager Joe Torre have any second thoughts about handing Rivera the end-of-game duties?

"I didn't have any doubt," Torre said Thursday afternoon during a conference call in advance of the Yankees' March 15-16 "Legend Series" games against the Marlins in Panama City. The exhibition games will honor Rivera, a Panama native, during his first year of retirement.

Torre said he understood Rivera's switch from a set-up reliever into a closer in 1997 might take some getting used to.

"It's sort of like if you're an infielder and they switch you to an outfielder," Torre said. "If you're an infielder, the ball goes through your legs, there's somebody to catch it. If you're an outfielder, you gotta run after it yourself.

"It was a transition for him because it's a lot different when you know there's somebody out there that's a safety net. And, as it turned out, he turned out to be a safety net for everybody else."

Rivera ended up saving 43 games in 1997, the first year of a remarkable 17-season run as Yankees closer. He ultimately converted 89 percent of his 763 opportunities. And, of course, there are those 42 postseason saves and 0.70 ERA.

"He has set the bar so high for relief pitchers that I don't think that mountain will be climbed ever again," Torre said.

By bringing their major league talent to Panama, the Yankees and Marlins will be exposing the game to a new audience, some of whom perhaps have dreams of one day trying to climb that mountain.

"We know how important the game of baseball is around the world," Torre said. "We're introducing it to other parts of the world that maybe aren't as familiar, but curious.

"I think Mariano is really gonna be emotional when he joins the Yankees down there shortly."

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