JUPITER, Fla. - Earlier in spring training, Mariano Rivera said the drama regarding 2014 would be minimal.
When he was asked Feb. 13 if he had made a decision about his future, he replied, "I have. But I won't give it up until I'm ready.''
The announcement the Yankees and their fans have long dreaded is expected to come Saturday when Rivera, 43, reveals his intention to retire after the season, a source confirmed.
Barring, of course, a last-minute change of mind, something that can't completely be eliminated as a possibility.
Rivera, after all, hinted in spring training last year that 2012 would be his last season. But a day after tearing his right ACL May 3 in Kansas City, he declared he had no desire to end his career on the disabled list.
On Thursday afternoon, the Yankees' organization, some members of which have been aware of Rivera's decision for nearly a week, announced a news conference at Steinbrenner Field at 10 a.m. Saturday.
The release did not indicate a reason for the event, but that didn't stop reflection about a rare talent -- one who has amassed a record 608 saves -- from commencing.
"Greatest closer of all time, there's no question in my mind," Joe Girardi said after the Yankees' 7-6 loss to the Cardinals at Roger Dean Stadium. "I think he's one of the greatest pitchers of all time, not just closer."
Ichiro Suzuki, a future Hall of Famer with 2,606 career hits, is 5-for-13 in his career against Rivera, now his teammate. One of those hits, a two-out, two-run homer in the bottom of the ninth that beat Rivera on Sept. 18, 2009, remains vivid.
"That to me is very special and had an impact on me," Ichiro said Thursday. "Of course, you don't want to face him, but it was that much more gratifying because he's the best."
Tino Martinez, the Marlins' hitting coach and a teammate of Rivera's from 1996-2001 and 2005, said the closer's professionalism always stood out.
"He was one of those guys when he saved a game, he didn't celebrate or show anybody up," Martinez said. "He just did his job, walked off the mound. Just a true professional. And the reason I have four World Series rings on my finger. I might have one or two, but not four."
Indeed, for his impressive regular-season statistics, Rivera's postseason marks are all but untouchable. Among them: 42 saves, including 11 in the World Series, and a 0.70 ERA in 96 postseason games.
"Hard to imagine anyone could have done the job that he did," Girardi said of Rivera's postseason performance.
Rivera, entering his 19th season with the Yankees, achieved his success mostly with his signature cutter, a pitch one opposing team talent evaluator calls "a freak of nature." It has its origins in the Panamanian fishing village of Puerto Caimito, from where the Yankees plucked him as an undrafted free agent in 1990 for the now-ridiculous-sounding sum of $3,000.
LaTroy Hawkins, currently a Met but a Yankee in 2008, recalled playing catch with Rivera. Even in that noncompetitive setting, the cutter was dazzling.
"You can see it on TV, you can go up there and hit, but playing catch with him, you got a better feel," Hawkins said. "Like wow, that's pretty impressive . . . That ball cuts. He can control it. You see that's why he's the all-time saves leader."
Ichiro, in calling Rivera's cutter incomparable, sounded as if facing Rivera is akin to being taunted.
"Pitchers obviously try to throw to places that hitters will have a hard time hitting," Ichiro said. "Mariano will just throw it to where you're waiting for the pitch. And you still can't hit it. A batter has a spot that you want a pitcher to throw to. That's where Mariano's going to throw to."
Girardi caught Rivera in 137 games, second only to Jorge Posada's 598. Said Girardi, "I can really remember one guy, who had incredible stats, a lefthanded hitter, who came up and said, 'I don't know why they send me up here. The only place I can hit the ball hard is over our dugout,' " Girardi said. "At times it seemed like it wasn't fair. That's how good Mo was."
With Marc Carig