Mariano Rivera walked through the underbelly of Yankee Stadium, flipping a baseball to himself. Not one sweat stain altered the color of his light blue button down. Not one bead of perspiration dripped from his shaved head.
No, Rivera looked as cool as ever, even though he had just basked in the hot August sun and the cascading adulation of his fans for 40 minutes.
It was typical Rivera, whom the Yankees honored with a plaque in Monument Park before Sunday’s 12-3 loss to the Rays. The man who always appeared calm in the intense heat of critical moments — and accumulated five World Series titles and 652 saves as proof — threw a strike to rookie Gary Sanchez on the ceremonial first pitch.
“The heat is OK,” he said. “The heat actually is good, but throwing it in this kind of shirt, if I got good shoes, it would be much better, spikes. But it was good. Always when you have an opportunity to be on a mound, it’s something that has no price.”
For Rivera, there also is no price tag on joining the Yankees legends in Monument Park.
“It’s amazing,” he said, “because you think about how many people there are, especially starting with Babe Ruth. You have Mickey [Mantle]. You have Mr. Joe DiMaggio. You have my favorite, Yogi Berra, and the list is going on and on. And me, a humble guy from Puerto Caimito, Panama, being in that group of men, it means a lot.”
Rivera’s humility cannot overshadow his dominance, sustained throughout his 19-year career with the Yankees. In addition to being baseball’s all-time saves leader, the 13-time All-Star posted a 2.21 ERA and 1.00 WHIP in the regular season.
His numbers improved in the postseason, when he saved 42 games and posted a 0.70 ERA and 0.76 WHIP in 141 innings.
Rivera’s dominance was rooted in one pitch: a cutter responsible for shattering innumerable bats. It moved late and inspired fear in the game’s best hitters, including Rafael Palmeiro of the 500-home run club.
Said Joe Girardi, Rivera’s catcher from 1996-99 and manager from 2008-13: “I do remember Rafael Palmeiro coming up to the plate and saying, ‘I don’t know why they send me up here. The only place I can hit it hard is over our dugout.’ . . . I just felt, this is some kind of hitter saying that.”
“Most teams don’t get that,” Yankees managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner said. “Closers are great, but nobody was like him. To have kind of a sure thing was something that we never took for granted, but we certainly over the years became comfortable with it.”
But perhaps nobody was as comfortable as Rivera — not only while closing games but also with his place as one of many legends in Yankees history. To conclude his pregame speech, he paid homage to DiMaggio.
“I will always thank the good Lord,” he said, “for making me a Yankee.”