We've come to associate Mariano Rivera with high-pressure moments in the ninth inning, the narrow leads he's come in to secure, and the poise it has taken for him to successfully navigate those situations for so long with such great ease.
That wasn't quite the case for one of Rivera's notable postseason outings, however. On Oct. 22, 2001, with the Yankees up, 3-1, in their American League Championship Series against the Mariners, Rivera came on to close it out with the Yankees leading, 12-3, in the ninth. It was a blowout, a rout brought on by Andy Pettitte's quality start and a dominant performance from the middle of the Yankees' lineup.
But it was the postseason, and there was an AL pennant to secure, so out came Rivera to pitch the ninth with a nine-run lead. The script unfolded pretty much exactly as expected.
Upon replacing setup man Mike Stanton, Rivera induced a groundout from Carlos Guillen, gave up a single to pinch-hitter Mark McLemore and got a forceout at second base on an Ichiro Suzuki ground ball.
With two outs and Suzuki on first, Mike Cameron lined a 95-mph pitch from Rivera into right field. Shane Spencer slid underneath the ball, reeled it into his glove, and that was it: three outs, a few steps off the Yankee Stadium mound to hug catcher Jorge Posada and a series-clinching win that sent the Yankees to their fourth straight World Series.
It would have seemed almost unthinkable then that Rivera was about to be dealt his first postseason defeat shortly thereafter, as he suffered the loss against the D-backs in Game 7 of the 2001 World Series. Because at that point, Rivera had already firmly established himself as a dominant closer and an untouchable force in the postseason.
"You can't win a game unless you finish it, and Mo finishes better than anyone has ever done," Yankees manager Joe Torre told MLB.com after the ALCS victory. "He's like a regular player for me. They list players and pitchers separately, but Mariano Rivera is like an everyday player for me."
Derek Jeter agreed, telling MLB.com, "When he comes in, it's over. ... I don't want to jinx him and say he's unhittable, but when he comes in with a lead, you bring in Mo and the game is over. That's a weapon not many teams have."
And it's a weapon the Yankees have deployed without question whenever necessary, whether it's a six-out high-wire act or the finishing touches on a pennant-clinching rout.