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Girardi: Mo 'greatest pitcher I ever caught'

Girardi: Mo 'greatest pitcher I ever caught'

NEW YORK -- Joe Girardi caught a lot of different pitchers during his Major League career. But none of them, the Yankees manager said, were like Mariano Rivera.

"It was a real treat to catch him," Girardi said. "I've said over and over: he's the greatest pitcher I ever caught, and he was the easiest pitcher I ever caught."

The Yankees honored Mariano Rivera in a pregame ceremony prior to Sunday's game against the Giants, and Girardi spent part of the morning reflecting on the legendary closer's career.

The former backstop talked about his memories of catching Rivera when he played for the Yankees in the late 1990s. He remembered thinking that all he needed to do was get New York's starter through six innings in a big game, because he knew he could count on Rivera to pitch the last two.

"He brought comfort to me as a player. He brought comfort to me as a manager," Girardi said. "You feel that when Mo comes in, the game is over. That's an advantage for your club, because there's a peace in your players, too. And there's a concern on the other side. For that, he's given me a lot of peace."

Girardi also talked about the difference between the Rivera he caught in the late '90s and the Rivera he's managing in 2013. The Yankees' closer has developed a sinker since Girardi last caught him -- "He had to keep right-handed hitters more honest," Girardi said -- and he no longer can elevate a 96- or 97-mph fastball like he used to. The one thing that hasn't changed, though, is the cutter.

"I think he was extremely blessed with a gift, No. 1. And No. 2, I think he used that gift to the best of his ability and kept it simple," Girardi said. "His mechanics were impeccable. He was an outstanding fielder. And outstanding athlete, that didn't try to trick people. Just went right at them and didn't waste pitches. … He mastered his craft as well as anyone I've ever seen."

Perhaps most importantly, though, Girardi talked about how he never knew Rivera to let a blown save or a bad outing affect him the next day. It didn't matter whether Rivera threw a perfect ninth inning or gave up two runs to lose the game; the next day, he was the same as he was the day before.

"I have never seen it affect him, from a personality standpoint, the next day," Girardi said. "It's really hard to see it affect him from a personality standpoint that day, because he's the same all the time. And I think that's extremely important as a closer, because I think it allows him to bounce back and have that confidence the next day."

Josh Vitale is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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