Feb
20

Mariano’s last waltz

By

Mariano winds up to throw one of the final pitches at old Yankee Stadium. (Photo by Benjamin Kabak)

Once upon a time, there was a pitcher named Mariano. He was no ordinary pitcher, you see. Every night, when the Yankees had the lead, he and his cutter would arrive to the famous guitar strains of a famous song and save the day. In and out, the cutter would dart and dash as another Yankee game would end in favor of the good guys.

The pitcher named Mariano arrived one day in 1995, and no one quite knew what to make of him. He began his baseball journey as a starting pitcher and as a top prospect, was nearly traded a few times before he developed the ability to throw in the upper 90s. Flashing glimpses of brilliance during the Yanks’ first playoff run in a baseball generation, Mariano came of age in the 1995 ALDS as he threw some key innings under some tight pressure.

The next year, that pitcher named Mariano matured into his own. He was the game’s best setup man, and a year later, he became the Yanks’ closer. Despite a home run by Sandy Alomar in 1997, the pitcher named Mariano has held down that role since the days before AOL. He has outlasted closers around baseball, racking up more saves than anyone in baseball history and five World Series rings. With that illustrious résumé, we forgive him some games in 2001 and 2004 because even the best are sometimes mortal.
Over the years, Pinstriped personalities have come and gone. He played with Don Mattingly, with David Cone and Paul O’Neill, with Bernie and Tino and Giambi. He saved more games for Andy Pettitte than any other tandem in baseball history, and for his latest trick, he even outlasted A.J. Burnett in the Bronx.

But now it sounds as though the end is 162 regular season games and, hopefully, a playoff run away. While speaking with reporters in Tampa on Monday, Mariano waxed poetically about his career. This is his golden season — number 42 is 42 years old — and the end may be near. “I know now,” he said. “I just don’t want to tell you. I know now. I will let you guys know when I think I should tell you.”

He spoke about life this winter when vocal surgery had the Yanks’ closer and all of his fans worried about the C word. “It scared me,” he said of his surgery. “I thought it could be cancer. I was relieved when everything came back negative. But it tells you how quick everything could be gone.”

He spoke of the finality of his own personal decision. “Even if I save 90 games. Even if they want to pay as much money as they want to, any team. I know what I’m going to do,” he said as Jack Curry’s own reporting suggested retirement.

The pitcher named Mariano, a religious man devoted to his family, could pack it in soon. Yankee fans around the globe could watch an icon step away from the game when he’s still good enough to get out the toughest hitters. We could watch the teflon closer call it a career. We could watch the pitcher named Mariano, a favorite to generations of Yankee fans who have never seen anything quite like him or his prized cutter, take that final curtain call.

If the 2012 baseball season were a movie of Mariano’s life, it would fade to black with only one ending. The skinny balding guy with his cool and calm demeanor would fire one more strike past one more batter to record the final out of the World Series. It’s baseball’s equivalent of Hollywood’s ride into the sunset. But in baseball as in life, there are no guarantees of an easy championship, and so if this is indeed Mariano’s last season, we’ll treasure that pitch. One day, we’ll tell our grandchildren of how we grew up watching that pitcher named Mariano, and it was always a real treat.

Categories : Musings

40 Comments»

  1. Dave M says:

    It is quite interesting when you think about all the players who have come and gone during Mo’s tenure with the Yanks.

  2. eric says:

    On Monday, June 30th, 1997 my father and I went to our first game since seeing game 6 of the ’96 series. The Yankees were playing the Braves again for the first game of their inter-league series. Before the game we wandered into one of the shops on River Ave. I wanted a jersey. Being 13, and a pitcher who would eventually throw in high school and college I wanted Mariano’s batting practice jersey. I bought a huge jersey that day- maybe it was foresight, but the jersey still fits and is the only official Yankees jersey i own still to this day. Though high school, college, jobs, everything. It still fits, and when I take the B-train up to the stadium from the west side I’m wearing it, 15 years later.

    Oh, and a guy named Kenny Rogers came out of the pen that day after another guy named Pettitte took a line drive off the shin. We boo’d him badly as he ran in from the pen, but he threw 4 shut out innings, and Louis Sojo hit one of his patented 15 hoppers through the middle to win it in the 10th 1-0.

    http://www.baseball-reference......6300.shtml

  3. Este15 says:

    In Mo we trust. At least for one more season…

  4. Fernando says:

    Say it ain’t so Mo….say it ain’t so.

  5. David N says:

    They’d better win it this year. I can’t stomach the idea of having Mariano’s last time on a mound be in anything other than a Yankees win.

  6. Jesse says:

    #WinOneForMo

  7. Matt DiBari says:

    We’re gonna be in for one hell of a rude awakening in 2013.

  8. Juke Early says:

    As you go through life always remember — the word money starts with “Mo.”
    And Pirates starts with “pi. . ..”

  9. ryan says:

    maybe he means he’s going to come back one a perpetual contract at the league minimum!

  10. Mike says:

    Maybe we can trade him at the deadline and get something of value in return !

    DON’T let him walk without getting something in return !!

    mwhahahahahahahaha

  11. BK2ATL says:

    Sounds like he’s done after this year. We can’t be surprised if he does. While he’s certainly still performing at a high level, he’s 42 and just survived a potential cancer scare. I think he’ll go out with exactly the same class and grace that he’s exhibited throughout his career. They’ll be no selfishness involved, no self-gratifying retirement last tour around the league.

    I personally think that this team, on paper, is built to sustain a high level of competition this year and for #29. Cashman is getting Girardi exactly what’s needed to win this year, but in an intelligent way towards the future as well. I think they will win this one for Mo AND Jeter, and the focus will be on 25 players putting out max team effort to make sure that this happens. This is probably why Damon wasn’t considered. He had a concerning alternative motive, that apparently some think would’ve not been beneficial to this team and the ultimate goal.

    Mariano, without a doubt, is a 1st ballot HOF. We’ve been spoiled for so many years. It certainly will need some getting used to, not having that crutch out there, but I think we have pieces in place to patch things together. I just hope pitchers like D-Rob, Soriano, Joba, Pineda, Nova as well as Banuelos and Betances, use this possible final spring training to sponge everything possible off of Mariano.

  12. Fchechel says:

    We all knew this day had to come. At least he isn’t hanging on too long (although I’d prefer that given his continued dominance).

    Let’s make sure the man gets a standing ovation for every appearance this year. There will NEVER be another Mo.

  13. Rainbow Connection says:

    And I thought Bob Costas was melodramatic.

    Yuck.

  14. John says:

    Like Biggie said

    Mo Money Mo Problems

  15. JoeyA says:

    What a coward. Pujols and Fielder join the AL and Mo is gonna walk!

    In all seriousness, being a 24yr old, I don’t have a recollection of the Yankees w/o Mo, much like Jeter.

    This is going to be sad/weird/frustrating/etc. when he goes.

  16. Chad Gaudin the Friendly Ghost says:

    I have a two year old, and somewhere in my illogical heart I hoped that Mo would pitch until my son would remember how great he was. I know that means he would have to pitch until he was like 47, but the fact that one can even hope to see a guy in his mid 40′s take the field says something about the man.

    There isn’t a classier and more dominant athlete in sports, and even mortal Yankee enemies love and respect the guy. Much respect, Mo, I hope your teammates can rally and get you one more.

  17. Robinson Tilapia says:

    We had no idea at what we were looking at in 1995 when he was making his handful of starts, were we?

  18. Peter R says:

    Or he is just messing with us….please?

  19. Ballgame says:

    Great Pic Ben!

  20. Moyer says:

    Mo is everything I wanted to be at 42…

  21. jsbrendog says:

    let’s get some win for mariano shirts going

  22. Erica says:

    Beautiful article. I choked up a bit toward the end.

    I like to convince myself that Mo is immortal and he’ll be pitching forever. He will pitch forever, right guys? Right?

    It’s impossible not to get chills each time Mo comes jogging out of the bullpen to “Enter Sandman.” It’s almost overpowering. He’s a special, special guy.

  23. bumbo klaat says:

    AOL…? Come on I had that in 1994

  24. Monterowasdinero says:

    Andy in 10
    Jorge in 11
    Mo in 12

    but not Jeter in 13. I think he will play on.

  25. Opus says:

    Regarding the final strike to end it scenario… I’m having a hard time remembering any clincher that ended with Mo striking out the guy for the final out. Anyone know how many times it has happened?

    • JoeMan says:

      My favorite Mariano moment was back in 2002. Barry Bonds and the San Francisco Giants were in NY for interleague play and Ted Lilly was the starter. Lilly let up a 3 run shot, halfway up the upper deck to Bonds in the first, but the Yankees battled back to tie it up, and in the ninth, Mo came in.

      Mo walks one, struck another out, and then steps Barry to the plate with one out. After getting to 2-2, Bonds fouls off tough pitch after tough pitch before Mariano strikes him out on high heat. That moment was the loudest I have ever heard the old stadium, and I know I will never hear the new one get that loud.

      An Alfonso Soriano error ruined the game for the Yankees, but nothing could ever take away the feeling of pride I had in knowing our legendary closer just struck out the most dangerous power hitting in baseball history, and was the midst of his his steroid prime.

      There will never be another Mo

  26. jramey says:

    I’m going to cry like a little girl after he throws his last pitch.

    • DSFC says:

      Me too. I shed a tead or two when Donnie hung em up, but I never thought it would happen again. Donnie defined my childhood, I was 7-19 years old when he played. I LOVED Paul O’Neill and was sad to see him go, but no, not that sad. I’ve been an adult for Mo’s entire run…..but I’ll be a little kid again when I have to face a baseball future that doesn’t have Mariano Rivera in it.

  27. Andrew J. says:

    Then again, maybe he’s made up his mind to take one last two-year contract and just doesn’t want to be hassled talking about it during the season?
    AJ

  28. Don W says:

    I’m going to have to re-think my vacation plans for the summer. Must see Mo jog to the mound in Yankee Stadium one more time before he takes his place among the legends.

  29. Cal says:

    I’ll also forgive Mo for 2001 (how the Yanks were able to emotionally be in the Series given Sept. 11th is still remarkable) and 2004 (when PED usage at the heart of the Juicy Sox lineup finally helped them catch up to the cutter.). If that’s the worst of the battle scars, I’ll take it.

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