What CC Sabathia remembered most was the “security” Mariano Rivera provided.
“You knew the game was over,” Sabathia said.
The delivery stood out to pitching coach Larry Rothschild.
“He repeated his delivery better than anybody I’ve ever seen,” said Rothschild, in his 45th year in professional baseball and Rivera’s pitching coach with the Yankees from 2011-13.
Aaron Boone, a teammate for three months after coming over via trade in 2003, called the closer “this almost perfect competitor.”
For Dellin Betances, mentored early in his career by Rivera — who will enter the Hall of Fame on Sunday as the first player ever elected unanimously — it was the ability to put the previous day’s result behind him.
Every reliever talks about the need to “turn the page,” but not nearly as many are successful at it.
“It’s hard,” Betances said. “Really hard.”
J.A. Happ, in his 13th big-league season, never played with Rivera, but like just about everyone else in the game, admired him from afar. He recalled his teammates’ reaction after facing Rivera and his feared cutter.
“I know how hitters adjust and I know how smart hitters are, and to know that those guys are still coming back [to the dugout] kind of shaking their heads,” Happ said. “To be unable to make an adjustment to someone doing that [throwing one pitch] is hard to comprehend, really.”
He added: “As a pitcher, you can’t grasp being that great and throwing one pitch. You’d talk to hitters and they’re kind of saying the same thing — you know it’s coming and you still can’t hit it.”
The cutter, of course, helped Rivera amass a record 652 saves over 19 seasons and, perhaps more astounding, compile a 0.70 ERA and 0.76 WHIP in 171 career postseason innings (in which he allowed only two homers) in that time.
“When a guy can do what he did throwing one pitch, it tells you how good that pitch is and how good he is at commanding it and knowing what to do with it,” Rothschild said. “And did it in an easy fashion. I think it’s a little misleading that everybody says he did things so easy because he worked at it and the game’s not easy. He made it look easy, but it’s not.”
Rivera posted a 3.15 ERA in 2007, the “worst” ERA in his career as a full-time reliever. Then, in his last six years — his age 38-43 seasons — he saved 209 games with a 1.80 ERA and 0.87 WHIP.
It was year-after-year consistency at a position that notoriously lends itself to inconsistency.
“[He was] just unaffected by all that goes on around you, and that can be a distraction in this game,” Boone said. “The ability to in that role to just completely turn the page. I remember when I got traded here at the deadline in '03 he went through a stretch where he had a couple of rough outings and I remember even hearing some boos for Mariano and I was like ‘wow.’ And then he went on a probably 2 ½-month tear after that where he was the lights-out closer he pretty much was his entire career.”
Rivera surrendered the lead in three of four appearances after Boone made his Yankees debut and then went 15-for-15 in saves down the stretch.
Betances, an All-Star from 2014-17, several times referred to Rivera’s ability to treat every save situation the same, whether good or bad.
“Just his poise, the way he was able to handle all of those saves,” Betances said. “A big save, a blown save, a save in the middle of July, every day was a new day, that’s how he treated it. I think that’s the biggest thing. Always poised and under control. Nothing ever seemed to faze him.”
Sabathia, who might join Rivera in Cooperstown someday, looked at the total body of work and shook his head at the consistency.
“That’s amazing,” said the lefthander, set to retire after this season, his 19th in the majors. “Nobody can do that. And I don’t think anybody will ever be able to do it again.”