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MLB.com Columnist

Richard Justice

Fans treated to terrific trio for one Mo year

Justice: Fans treated to terrific trio for one Mo year

Fans treated to terrific trio for one Mo year
So we'll have at least one more season to see 'em all together, these three who've meant so much to the Yankees.

Did I say the Yankees?

That's silly. Derek Jeter, Andy Pettitte and Mariano Rivera impacted this game all over the world. They defined winning -- 16 playoff appearances together, seven American League pennants, five World Series championships.

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They didn't just win. They won the way we'd all like to win. They won with dignity, with class. They played the game the way we'd like every player to play it. They played hard from start to finish. They respected their opponents.

And when they weren't able to write their own ending, they did that with class, too. That they'll be together for at least one more season is a treat for all of us, for all the millions of Yankee fans, but really for anyone who loves this game and what these three represent.

People don't think of the Yankees the same way since they arrived. The Yankees are supposed to be hated, and you can look it up.

The Babe was jeered and cursed. Reggie was hated for sure. The Boss? You know the answer to that one.

Who hates Rivera? He's so elegant, so dignified. Classy in defeat, classy in victory. Pettitte is like that, too. Wouldn't utter a disrespectful word if you dunked him in ice water.

Jeter? They boo him in a few places, especially in Boston. But they don't really mean it. Those boos are the boos of fans who wish he was playing for their team. In their hearts, they know he's about as close to a perfect baseball player as we've ever had.

Anyway, there was a time last offseason when the band appeared to be breaking up. Pettitte was coaching kids in Texas. And then Rivera showed up at Spring Training and strongly hinted that 2012 would be his final season. He said he still loved it and all, but he wanted to go out on his own terms.

If it was almost any other player, you'd wonder if he was playing management for a new contract. But that's not how Mariano Rivera does things.

It was almost incomprehensible he would go out on top when he's still capable of pitching at a high level. Only after he wrecked his right knee on May 3 did he tell reporters he'd be back for a 19th season.

He's 43 years old, three years older than Pettitte, five older than Jeter. If you're thinking this is starting to look like an old baseball team, you're right.

When reporters throw that question at Yankees general manager Brian Cashman, he has a couple of quick answers. First, virtually all of his old players are productive, that is, excluding that bad week against the Tigers in the American League Championship Series.

His older players are so meticulous in their preparation that there's no reason to think there will be a decline in production. Besides, Cashman has invested millions in a player development system that has produced Robinson Cano, Phil Hughes, David Phelps, Brett Gardner, Ivan Nova, Joba Chamberlain and David Robertson the last few seasons.

Still, Friday's announcement that Rivera had agreed to a one-year contract for 2013 prompts legitimate questions about how much he still has left in the tank.

At 43, he has more yesterdays than tomorrows in baseball, and at some point, there will be a decline. The Yankees trust Rivera to know when that time will be, and he seems confident he can be productive in 2013.

His cutter averaged 90.6 mph last season, according to Fangraphs.com. That's 1 mph down from 2011, but only a half mph down from '10.

His 8.64 strikeouts-per-nine-innings in 2011 is actually higher than his career average of 8.26. It's also down significantly from his 2009 average of 9.72.

So the bottom line is that there has been a dropoff, but as long as Rivera still has a sharp break on his cutter, he'll probably be fine.

Naturally, there will be concern about his right knee post-surgery and if it'll allow him to throw with the same motion and drive to the plate. Again, Rivera seems confident.

Let's hope it works out. He has been so good through the years, so committed to doing everything right, that it'll be a sad day when he does finally go.

For now, we'll have the privilege of seeing him pitch one more season, seeing Pettitte and Jeter, too. Years from now, we'll be some of the lucky ones who saw them play. There may never be three teammates who represent the game better or accomplish more.

Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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