Why Mariano Rivera was My Favorite player.
Dateline: New York City, October 26, 1996.
The New York Yankees are facing the Atlanta Braves in Game 6 of the World Series. Closer and eventual World Series MVP John Wetteland is on the mound, Braves outfielder Marquis Grissom represents the tying run on first base.
Wetteland gets Mark Lemke to pop out to Charlie Hayes in foul territory, the Yankees win the World Series and everyone’s happy.
But how did we really get to this infamous 3-2 victory? Adult Josh would have watched that game in his dad’s old apartment on West 104th Street and been an anxious mess. That’s still a close game, and nobody wanted Game 7.
In reality, ten-year-old Josh knew everything was OK and celebrated accordingly after the last out. So did the crowd around the corner at the Tap-A-Keg bar, which still stands to this day and probably uses the same kegs from 26 years ago.
And how did I know the New York Yankees would win Game 6? Because Mariano Rivera set the stage. He tossed two scoreless relief innings to hold New York’s then 3-1 lead and set Wetteland up for success in the ninth inning. In just a small slice of his Hall of Fame career, Rivera set the tone for how he’d redefine what it meant to be an MLB closer.
In doing so, Mariano Rivera became my favorite New York sports athlete (and probably of all time), and still remains so to this day.
Cue the music.
Everyone knows I love a good tune, and Mariano Rivera made me a Metallica fan. Just something about watching a scrawny 6-foot-2, 195-pound man trot in behind Lars Ulrich’s backbeat, Kirk Hammett’s guitar, and James Hetfield’s gritty vocals set the right mood.
To this day, if that song comes on at home, I will literally drop everything, wait about 30 seconds, and then say in perfect Bob Sheppard inflection, “Your attention, please, ladies and gentlemen. Now pitching for the Yankees, number 42, Mariano…Rivera!”
You can have your Derek Jeters, Andy Pettittes, anyone from either the Core Four or ’90s Yankees dynasty. I did then and will continue to wave the flag of the man who sealed 652 New York victories with his signature cutter.
The man who, after blowing what would have been two AL Pennant-clinching saves in the 2004 ALCS, came back to finish second in AL Cy Young voting in 2005.
The very man who, after tearing his ACL during warmups in May of what was supposed to be his final season in 2012, simply said, “I’m not going out like this.”
This same man who came back one year later at age 43, notched 44 saves, and then received a king’s farewell as he wept in his last home game, and thousands of fans did with him.
The unbelievable man who is so unbelievably beloved to this day that he was unanimously elected to the Hall of Fame, while his teammate Jeter only received a paltry 99.7% of votes.
Mr. Automatic. The Sandman. Simply “Mo.”
This was Mariano Rivera, a man who redefined greatness while throwing just one pitch. And he’ll always be my favorite.