Covering the Closer: Two Decades of Writing on Mariano Rivera

The Yankees signed Mariano Rivera for $2,500 in 1990, and he threw his final pitch for the club in 2013. In between, he played in 19 major league seasons, won five World Series titles and compiled the most saves in M.L.B. history.

Numerous reporters from The New York Times documented his lengthy career, from his emergence with the Yankees to his championship triumphs and his final farewell. Here is a collection of excerpts from several of the most memorable points in his career.

By Ira Berkow, Feb. 22, 1993 (The first mention of Rivera in the Times)

Steve Howe was telling Mariano Rivera, a young Panamanian pitcher, about his spring trainings in high school in Clarkton, Mich.

“We’d go out to play in March and April and have to sweep the snow off the basepaths,” the veteran relief pitcher said.

Rivera looked at Howe. “It snows in Michigan?” he asked.

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By Jay Privman, May 24, 1995

Yankee pitchers continue to be plagued by the long ball. They allowed four home runs tonight and have given up 22 in the last 10 games. Mariano Rivera, recently called up from Class AAA Columbus, started but was knocked out after three and one-third innings.

Rivera was brought up because Jimmy Key, who was scheduled to pitch tonight, was put on the disabled list last Saturday because of inflammation and tendinitis in his rotator cuff.

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By Jason Diamos, Aug. 2, 1995 (Rivera’s first bullpen appearance)

Rivera couldn’t do it last night. He allowed a run on two walks and a two-out double in the sixth and was the victim as the Brewers wiped out the Yankees’ third lead on [David] Hulse’s inside-the-park homer in the seventh.

As the ball squirted around the left-field corner after Randy Velarde slid into the padding in foul territory in an attempt to stop it, Hulse hustled around the bases. He beat the relay home with a nice slide, and the Brewers had their first lead, 5-4.

“I know I can pitch out of there,” Rivera said of his new role in the pen. “I don’t know what happened today.”

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By Claire Smith, April 29, 1996

And even though Rivera does not feel like Sandy Koufax, he’s been virtually untouchable. “It’s not that I feel unhittable,” the affable 26-year-old Panamanian said. “I just feel comfortable.”

The Twins, conversely, were very uncomfortable with Rivera and his 90-plus-mile-per-hour fastball. “We don’t need to face him any more,” Twins Manager Tom Kelly declared. “He needs to pitch in a higher league, if there is one. Ban him from baseball. He should be illegal.”

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By Jack Curry, Jan. 5, 1997

Confident words flow from Rivera, but it is ludicrous to suggest he is arrogant; this is someone who endured 12-hour days working on fishing boats with his father, who used a cardboard box for his first glove and who still considers it a duty to play with neighborhood kids.

Prodded into describing his status in his home country, he said, “Right now, when it comes to sports in Panama, I’m the man.”

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By Jack Curry, Oct. 18, 1996

There is [David] Cone, the bionic pitcher who returned after missing four months because of surgery to remove an aneurysm from under his right armpit. There is Derek Jeter, the 22-year-old shortstop whose poise and abilities are boundless. There is Mariano Rivera, who can throw his high fastball past any batter and would secure the Cy Young award if it were given to the most valuable pitcher. There is Andy Pettitte, whose 21 victories will probably earn him the Cy Young instead. There is Bernie Williams, who is proving to be the best center fielder in baseball not named Griffey.

“Look up and down the lineup,” Paul O’Neill raved. “Eighty to 90 percent of the guys, you knew what you were going to get from them. And then some of the guys that people were worried about gave us more than you ever expected. Jeter and Rivera were great.”

By Jack Curry, Oct. 13, 2004

After the ceremonies, Rivera, who paid for the funeral and promised to take care of María Félix, [Victor Darío] Avila’s widow, and her 16-year-old daughter, told reporters in Panama, “This is a very difficult moment, but you have to go on and thank God for what we have.”

Rivera was soon put in a position to match his actions to his words about having to move forward after the deaths. His actions as a pitcher in mourning the last three days were imposing as Rivera helped the Yankees survive in a wild 10-7 victory over the Red Sox in Game 1 of the American League Championship Series.

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By Jack Curry, Nov. 4, 2009

Of course, Rivera, the mighty Mariano, was the last closer standing.

As talented as the other postseason closers are, Rivera is different. As long as the Yankees could get leads, Rivera would protect them better than anyone. He has saved 39 of 44 opportunities in the postseason, including 11 of 12 in the World Series.

“He’s the best at what he does,” Jorge Posada said. “I think he’s the best to ever do it.”

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By Tyler Kepner, Sept. 19, 2011

[Joe] Girardi said Rivera’s record would not be broken in our lifetime, and he may be right. Only Trevor Hoffman and Rivera have even 500 saves, and no other active pitcher has 350. The record will be part of Rivera’s legacy for many years, but it will not be his epitaph.

“Records are meant to be broken, so I don’t know,” Rivera said. “All I hope is whoever’s going to be there or do that will just respect the game the way I have respected it. That’s all I wish.”

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By David Waldstein, May 3, 2012

As soon as Rivera fell in the outfield, the gravity of the moment could be read on the worried faces of everyone in the Yankees’ blue and gray uniforms.

Alex Rodriguez, who was waiting for his turn in the batting cage, appeared to say: “Oh my God. Oh, my God,” and immediately signaled to [Joe] Girardi, who ran out to assist Rivera. For several minutes Rivera writhed on the warning track in obvious pain as grim-faced teammates and coaches stood nearby. After the game, the news was dealt with glumly in the Yankees’ clubhouse.

“I thought we were hoping for the best,” said Yankees first baseman Mark Teixeira. “I told you this game is cruel before the game. It’s even more cruel now.”

By David Waldstein, Sept. 26, 2013

As he walked to the mound alongside [Derek] Jeter, [Andy] Pettitte tapped his right arm to signal for the replacement pitcher, Matt Daley, then took the ball from Rivera’s hand. Rivera wrapped his arms around Pettitte, who is also retiring after the season, and buried his face in his shoulder, sobbing.

“I didn’t say anything at first, and I didn’t expect for him to be quite so emotional,” Pettitte said. “He broke down and gave me a bear hug, and I bear-hugged him back. I mean, he was really crying. He was weeping, and I could feel him crying on me.”

With a gentle prod from Jeter, Rivera finally looked up, hugged Jeter and walked off the mound as the fans, the Yankees and the Rays stood and cheered.

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By Tyler Kepner, Jan. 22, 2019

Rivera, 49, signed with the Yankees from Panama in 1990 for a $3,500 bonus. He reached the majors five years later and started 10 games; the last batter he faced as a starter was Martinez, who singled home a run in the fifth inning against him on Sept. 5, 1995, knocking Rivera from the game and sending him to the bullpen forever.

It was a perfect fit. Rivera thrived as a setup man in the Yankees’ 1996 championship run and took over as the team’s closer in 1997, the year he discovered his devastating cut fastball, which broke hundreds of bats with its hard, late movement into the hands of left-handers.

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