Pettitte, Girardi still in awe of Rivera's dominance
With future Hall of Famer set to lay out retirement plans, Yanks starting to reflect
TAMPA, Fla. -- Mariano Rivera had "nothing to say" Friday morning about the speculation that the 2013 season will be the last chapter of his storied career.
While the Yankees closer, Major League Baseball's all-time saves leader, kept his words to a minimum, those close to him began the 43-year-old closer's victory lap by lauding his accomplishments and his attitude, the cutter of the pitcher and the character of the man.
Rivera reiterated that he has always planned to address his future at some point and confirmed that he will speak at a 10 a.m. ET press conference at George M. Steinbrenner Field on Saturday. Several media outlets, including ESPN.com and the New York Post, have reported that Rivera will announce his plans to retire after this season.
"I told you guys that I would talk one day," Rivera said to a small group of reporters as he walked to the players' parking lot on Friday. "Tomorrow is the day."
Rivera appeared to be in good spirits after working out at the Yankees' Spring Training complex, saying he is excited to make his Grapefruit League debut against the Braves on Saturday, only a few hours after his press conference. He isn't nervous, either -- not about his first game action since undergoing season-ending knee surgery last year or about what he's going to say a few hours before that.
"About any part," Rivera said. "Any part."
A lot has changed since left-hander Andy Pettitte, a fellow member of the "Core Four" that led the Yankees' late-'90s dynasty, first met Rivera. Pettitte couldn't remember much about their first encounter, only recalling a good person and a hard-throwing right-hander with good mechanics.
Since then, Rivera has developed the devastating cutter that still baffles hitters and become a friend and, as Pettitte put it, "obviously the greatest closer to ever play the game.
"I just don't think you'll ever see another guy that can throw one pitch and dominate the game of baseball," Pettitte said.
"He's made it into a Hall of Fame pitch," he added. "It's hard to control with the accuracy that he has of it and the movement. He's got the pressure on his fingers and manipulating the ball down to an absolute science. He's just got to worry about one pitch to do it, and he's been able, obviously, to harness it.
"You can be great and have great control of the pitch, but if your mind's not where it needs to be when you walk into the game that night, you're probably going to scuffle a little bit. You don't have to worry about him when he walks out there and takes that mound, where he's at mentally and where he's at physically and what he's going to do."
Pettitte agreed with the widespread notion that nobody in baseball does his job as well as Rivera. His scuffles were so few and far between that they stood out, and even those were often made up of broken-bat singles or a hitter "accidentally, it looked like to me, running into one," according to Pettitte.
Yankees manager Joe Girardi, who has both caught and managed Rivera, echoed Pettitte's thoughts that, in a game of failure, Rivera's always felt unusual.
"I think that just tells you how good it's been. When it happens to Mo, we're all in shock," Girardi said. "There are other closers that, when it happens, we say, 'Well, it's part of the trade.' But that just shows you how dominant he's been."
Girardi remembered his first time catching one of Rivera's bullpen sessions, realizing Rivera was "pretty good," but unable to see just how dominant he would become. He also recalled one of Rivera's more amusing moments, a game against the Blue Jays on July 18, 1998.
Rivera hadn't pitched in a week due to a lack of save opportunities. Joe Torre knew he had to get Rivera some work, so he sent his closer in to pitch the ninth inning of a blowout. Rivera had been toying around with a slider, and he threw one. Mike Stanley, the leadoff man that inning, hit it deep to left for a homer.
"He said, 'That's the end of that.' Never threw another one again. That experiment died that day. And he laughed," Girardi said. "I think that's what's so great about Mo. In a time where, a lot of times, people are always trying to add on, add pitches, Mo mastered what he was great at. He said, 'You know what? I can do it with this, and I can be almost perfect.'"
As trite as it might sound to say Rivera is a better person than pitcher, Girardi said that's absolutely the case -- that his personal attributes somehow trump the accolades and statistics he's compiled in a career that appears to be entering its final phase.
"It's the truth. Mo was always there to help people, give his time," Girardi said. "That will be one of the thrills for me when you're actually able to tell your grandkids about this guy. My kids have gotten a chance to see him and how good he is. But my grandkids, when he goes into the Hall of Fame, [I'll be able to say], 'I had the pleasure of catching this guy and seeing how dominant he was. You can't imagine how dominant he was.'"