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Mo's admirers start from behind the plate

Mo's admirers start from behind the plate

Mo's admirers start from behind the plate
NEW YORK -- Jorge Posada can't remember what he said in his first meeting with Mariano Rivera, but there's no forgetting the introduction to what would become one of baseball's most revered and feared pitches.

It was 1994, and Posada and Rivera were with the Triple-A Columbus Clippers, taking on a stacked Montreal Expos farm club on a stormy day. The slight right-hander from Panama was dominant, and Posada's initial impression hasn't changed.

"Ever since that day, I said this guy was going to be pretty good in the big leagues," Posada said. "There was something extra on that fastball that nobody else had, the life coming out of his hand, his makeup. Everything that he's been doing here, we saw it down there."

As Rivera closes in on 600 saves, soon to join Trevor Hoffman (601) as the only pitchers in Major League history to achieve that milestone, the bulk of Rivera's success story has already been written.

He is a sure bet to supplant Hoffman as the all-time saves leader, bringing 597 saves into Tuesday's game against the Orioles, with one more year under contract with the Yankees -- perhaps his final in a big league uniform. His legacy will be unmistakable.

"The best ever. I keep saying the same thing over and over again, and it sounds repetitious every time I talk about Mo, but it's true," Posada said. "There's nobody [who's] ever going to get close to what he's been able to achieve, because there's nobody better. It's just that simple."

Yankees manager Joe Girardi had one word to describe his thoughts after emerging from a 1996 Spring Training bullpen session, having been sent to catch Rivera's high-octane cutter: "Wow."


"He works. The body is the same since I've known him. That tells you how hard he works. His delivery and mechanics are sound, and he hasn't changed. He will never change, obviously, because they're perfect."

-- Jorge Posada

"I'd never heard of him," said Girardi, who had just joined the Yankees after an offseason trade from Colorado. "I'd been in the National League my whole life, so it was like, 'Who's this guy?' Then he started off kind of similar to [David Robertson] -- he was a sixth-inning guy, then he was the seventh, then all of a sudden he became sixth, seventh and eighth on some occasions. He was just dominant."

Girardi said that "it was a lot of fun" to catch Rivera, who made the job easy for his catchers, especially in the beginning.

With Rivera serving as John Wetteland's setup man in that 1996 World Series season, Girardi said all catchers had to do was put down a location and wait for Rivera to hit that spot with his cutter. Soon enough, they'd be back in the dugout.

"He could elevate any time he wanted to, he got a lot of strikes up in the zone and left-handers couldn't keep the ball fair on him if they hit it," Girardi said.

"I remember Rafael Palmeiro saying one day, 'I don't know why they send me up here. The only place I can hit it hard is foul.' And that's one of the greater hitters we saw in our lifetime. That's how good his stuff was."

It took a little while for the rest of the league to catch on, and even some of the personnel in pinstripes weren't immediately up on all of the tricks.

"We used to have different signs for different locations," Girardi said. "Mike Figga came into a game, and Mo told him, 'One, two, wiggle,' whatever. He put down a wiggle and threw him a heater, and it just went, 'Whoosh!' Mo didn't tell him what they all meant."

By the time Posada claimed the Yankees catching job in 1998, Rivera's dominance was well-known. As the decade passed, Rivera added a sinker, and Posada felt a calming effect every time No. 42 came into a game.


"I remember Rafael Palmeiro saying one day, 'I don't know why they send me up here. The only place I can hit it hard is foul.' And that's one of the greater hitters we saw in our lifetime. That's how good his stuff was."

-- Joe Girardi

"He made my job easier, he really did," Posada said. "He was a two-pitch pitcher, and it was more about location than anything with him. He made it really simple for me. Cutter, sinker, and make sure the location is there, and go to work."

Perhaps more impressive than Rivera's talent has been his mental strength. Posada said that there is "something very different about Mariano" than any other pitcher, wielding uncommon toughness.

Even on the game's biggest stage in the 2001 World Series, Rivera took defeat with a philosophical tone. Yet that wasn't always the case, as Girardi saw in the 1997 playoffs, when Sandy Alomar Jr.'s home run off Rivera crushed the Yankees.

"I think the hardest game that I ever saw him take was the game in Cleveland," Girardi said. "That was his first year as a closer. He was down. I think he felt like he let the team down, and that's not something you ever want to feel as a player. Sometimes the guy holding the ball last is going to feel the worst."

That isn't necessarily the Rivera that Russell Martin, a first-year Yankees catcher this season, has seen. Martin's only surprise at Rivera approaching the 600-saves milestone is that he hasn't done it already.

"It is pretty impressive," Martin said. "It shows that his work ethic, just to keep his body in shape, and his mind -- you never see him lose focus out there and that's more incredible than anything. Just his ability to focus in tough situations from day one, really."

When the Yankees arrived this spring in Tampa, Fla., there were only two players the team equipment staff didn't need new measurements on -- Derek Jeter was one; Rivera the other. That's a tribute to Rivera's focus, Posada said.

"He works. The body is the same since I've known him," Posada said. "That tells you how hard he works. His delivery and mechanics are sound, and he hasn't changed. He will never change, obviously, because they're perfect."

Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @bryanhoch. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

{"content":["riveraSaves" ] }
{"content":["riveraSaves" ] }