Mariano Rivera

Mariano Rivera
Mariano Rivera
Mariano Rivera in a gray baseball uniform and navy blue cap stands on a dirt mound. He is striding forward to the right as he clutches a baseball behind his head. His uniform reads "New York" in navy blue letters across the chest. His face is contorted in concentration.
Rivera pitching for the New York Yankees in 2007
New York Yankees — No. 42
Relief pitcher
Born: November 29, 1969 (1969-11-29) (age 41)
Panama City, Panama
Bats: Right Throws: Right 
MLB debut
May 23, 1995 for the New York Yankees
Career statistics
(through 2011)
Win–loss record     75–57
Saves     603
Earned run average     2.21
WHIP     1.00
Strikeouts     1,111
Career highlights and awards

Mariano Rivera (born November 29, 1969) is a Panamanian right-handed baseball pitcher who has played 17 years in Major League Baseball (MLB) for the New York Yankees. Nicknamed "Mo",[1] Rivera has served as a relief pitcher for most of his career, and since 1997, he has been the Yankees' closer. A 12-time All-Star and five-time World Series champion, he is MLB's all-time leader in saves (603) and games finished (883). His accolades include five American League (AL) Rolaids Relief Man Awards, the 1999 World Series Most Valuable Player (MVP) Award, and the 2003 AL Championship Series MVP Award.

Rivera was signed by the Yankees organization in 1990 as an amateur free agent in Panama, and he debuted in the major leagues in 1995. Initially a starting pitcher, he struggled in the role and was consequently converted to a relief pitcher. After a breakthrough season in 1996 as a setup man, he became the Yankees' closer in 1997. In the following years, he established himself as one of baseball's top relievers, leading the major leagues in saves in 1999, 2001, and 2004. Rivera's presence in the late innings of games to record the final outs has been instrumental to the Yankees' success in the late-1990s and 2000s, particularly in the postseason where he has set numerous records, including lowest earned run average (ERA) (0.70) and most saves (42). His pitching repertoire consists primarily of one pitch—a sharp-breaking, mid-90s mile per hour (mph) cut fastball that has been called an all-time great pitch.[2]

Rivera is regarded by baseball experts as one of the most dominant relievers in major league history.[3] Pitching with a longevity and consistency uncommon to the closer role, he has saved at least 25 games in a record 15 consecutive seasons and has posted an ERA under 2.50 in 13 seasons. He holds or shares over 40 records, and his career 2.21 ERA and 1.00 WHIP are the lowest marks in baseball's live-ball era. On the field, he is well-known for his reserved demeanor and composure that contrast with the effusiveness of many of his peers. Off the field, he has been involved in charitable causes and the Christian community. Sportswriters anticipate Rivera will be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame upon retirement.[4]


Early life

Mariano Rivera was born in Panama City, Panama, on November 29, 1969, to Mariano, Sr. and Delia Rivera.[5] His father worked as a ship captain in the fishing industry.[6] Rivera has one older sister, Delia, and two younger brothers, Alvaro and Giraldo.[7] He grew up in the Panamanian fishing village of Puerto Caimito—a town he described as "poor"[8]—frequently playing soccer with his friends. They also played baseball in the streets by substituting milk cartons for gloves and tree branches for bats,[2] and by fashioning balls by taping wads of shredded fishing nets and beat-up baseballs with electrical tape.[9] Rivera used this makeshift equipment until his father bought him his first leather glove when he was 12 years old.[5] He thought of baseball as a hobby and did not seriously consider playing professionally.[9] While attending Pedro Pablo Sanchez High School,[2] he played soccer, but his aspirations of becoming a professional player ended after a series of ankle injuries.[10] After graduating from high school at age 16, he worked six-day weeks on a commercial boat on which his father was captain, catching shrimp and sardines.[6][9] Rivera did not consider taking up the profession as an adult though, as he thought the job was "way too tough", and he wanted to become a mechanic.[2][11] As a 19-year-old, he had to abandon a capsizing 120-short-ton (110 t) commercial boat, all but convincing him to give up fishing as a career.[2]

In 1988, Rivera began to play baseball as a shortstop for Panamá Oeste, a local amateur team.[6] Herb Raybourn, the New York Yankees' director of Latin American operations, saw athleticism in Rivera but did not project him to be a major league shortstop.[12] A year later, Panamá Oeste's pitcher performed so poorly that Rivera volunteered to pitch.[6] He excelled at the position, prompting his teammates to contact Yankees scout Chico Heron. Two weeks later, Rivera was invited to a Yankees tryout camp in Panama City where Raybourn was visiting.[6] Raybourn was surprised to find Rivera pitching at the camp, since scouts passed on him as a shortstop a year prior.[12] Although Rivera had no formal pitching training and threw only 85–87 miles per hour (137–140 kilometres per hour), Raybourn was impressed by Rivera's athleticism and smooth, effortless pitching motion.[6] Viewing Rivera as a raw talent, Raybourn signed the amateur free agent to a contract with a US$3,000 signing bonus ($5,042 today) on February 17, 1990.[2][6]

Professional baseball career

Minor leagues (1990–1995)

After signing his contract in Panama with the Yankees organization, Rivera—who spoke no English at the time—left home for the first time. He flew to the United States to begin pitching for the Rookie level Yankees of the Gulf Coast League, a minor league affiliate of the New York Yankees.[9] At that point in his career, he was considered by scouts to be a "fringe prospect" at best,[13] but he made progress with a strong 1990 season for the GCL Yankees. Pitching mostly in relief, he allowed one earned run in 52 innings pitched—a 0.17 earned run average (ERA)—and he allowed only 24 baserunners.[14] His seven-inning no-hitter on the season's final day "put him on the map with the organization", according to manager Glenn Sherlock.[15] The following year, he ascended to the Class A level Greensboro Hornets of the South Atlantic League, where he started 15 of the 29 games he pitched in. Despite a 4–9 win–loss record, he recorded a 2.75 ERA in 114 23 innings pitched and struck out 123 batters while walking only 36 batters.[14] New York Yankees manager Buck Showalter took notice of Rivera's strong strikeout-to-walk ratio, calling it "impressive in any league" and stating, "This guy is going to make it."[16]

In 1992, Rivera was promoted to the Class A-Advanced Fort Lauderdale Yankees of the Florida State League (FSL). He started 10 games in Fort Lauderdale, compiling a 5–3 win–loss record and a 2.28 ERA.[14] He attempted to improve the movement on his slider by snapping his wrist in his pitching motion, but he inadvertently caused damage to the ulnar collateral ligament in his throwing elbow.[17] He had elbow surgery in August 1992 to repair the damage, ending his season and interrupting his minor league career.[17] It was expected that he would require Tommy John surgery, but during the procedure, Rivera's doctors determined that he did not need ligament replacement.[18] His rehabilitation coincided with the 1992 expansion draft to fill the rosters for the Florida Marlins and Colorado Rockies expansion teams. Rivera was left unprotected by the Yankees but was not drafted.[2] He successfully rehabilitated his arm in early 1993 and resumed pitching that year. He first joined the Rookie level Yankees to make two abbreviated starts, before returning to the Class A level Hornets to start ten more games.[14] Witnessing him rehabilitate, the Hornets' official scorer Ogi Overman was not optimistic about Rivera's future, saying, "I thought [he] was on a one-way trip to nowhere."[19]

In 1994, he ascended from the Class A-Advanced level Tampa Yankees of the FSL to the Double-A level Albany-Colonie Yankees of the Eastern League, and then to the Triple-A level Columbus Clippers of the International League. For the year, Rivera finished with a 10–2 record in 22 starts, although he struggled for Columbus, recording a 5.81 ERA in six starts.[14] He began the 1995 season with Columbus with the ranking of ninth-best prospect in the Yankees organization by Baseball America.[20] At the time, he primarily threw fastballs, although his pitching repertoire included a slider and changeup as secondary pitches.[17]

Major leagues (1995–present)


After opening the 1995 season with Columbus, Rivera made his major league debut against the California Angels on May 23, 1995 as a starting pitcher. Replacing an injured Jimmy Key, Rivera allowed five earned runs in 3 13 innings pitched in a 10–0 loss.[21][22] He experienced mixed success as a major league starter and as a result, he split time between the Yankees and their Columbus minor league affiliate.[20] As a 25-year-old rookie just three years removed from major arm surgery, Rivera's role on the team was not guaranteed. Management considered trading him to the Detroit Tigers for starter David Wells, but Yankees general manager Gene Michael quickly called off negotiations when he learned that Rivera began to throw at 95–96 mph (153–154 km/h) in one of his starts, 6 mph (9.7 km/h) faster than his previous average velocity. Rivera attributes his inexplicable improvement to God.[23] He also participated in a two-hit shutout of the Chicago White Sox on July 4, when he recorded a career-high 11 strikeouts.[20] Overall, he finished his first season in the major leagues with a 5–3 record and a 5.51 ERA in 10 starts and nine relief outings.[24] His improvement during the year and his success in the 1995 American League Division Series, in which he pitched 5 13 scoreless innings of relief, convinced Yankees management to keep him and move him into the bullpen the following season to be a full-time relief pitcher.[25][26]

"He needs to pitch in a higher league, if there is one. Ban him from baseball. He should be illegal."

Tom Kelly, manager of Minnesota Twins, after his team faced Rivera in April 1996[27]

In 1996, Rivera served primarily as a setup pitcher for closer John Wetteland, typically pitching in the seventh and eighth innings of games before Wetteland pitched in the ninth.[2] Their effectiveness gave the Yankees a 70–3 win–loss record that season when leading after six innings.[28] Over twelve games between April 19 and May 21, Rivera pitched 26 consecutive scoreless innings, including 15 consecutive hitless innings.[29] In the regular season, Rivera finished with a 2.09 ERA in 107 23 innings pitched and set a Yankees single-season record for strikeouts by a reliever (130).[29] In the postseason, he allowed just one earned run in 14 13 innings pitched,[30] helping the Yankees advance to and win the 1996 World Series against the Atlanta Braves. It was the franchise's first World Series championship since 1978. He finished third in the voting for the American League (AL) Cy Young Award, which is given annually to the league's best pitcher based on voting by baseball writers.[31]

Rivera impressed Yankees management enough that they chose not to re-sign Wetteland, who became a free agent in the offseason. They subsequently installed Rivera in the role of the Yankees' closer for the 1997 season to typically pitch the ninth innings of games.[2] In April, MLB retired the uniform number 42 league-wide to honor Jackie Robinson, although Rivera was one of a dozen players allowed to continue wearing the number per a grandfather clause.[32] Rivera's transition from setup man to closer was not seamless; he blew three of his first six save opportunities and indicated that he was initially uncomfortable in the role.[33][34] Eventually, he settled into his new duties, as he earned his first All-Star selection and recorded 43 saves in 52 opportunities with a 1.88 ERA in the regular season.[35] Rivera also added a cut fastball to his pitching repertoire after accidentally discovering how to throw the pitch.[36] His first season as closer ended with a blown save in Game 4 of the 1997 American League Division Series against the Cleveland Indians. With the Yankees four outs from advancing to the next round of the postseason, Rivera allowed a game-tying home run to Sandy Alomar, Jr.[23] The Yankees eventually lost that game and the next, eliminating them from the playoffs.


Although members of the Yankees coaching staff were concerned that Rivera would be affected by the disappointing end of the previous season,[2] he emerged as one of the major leagues' best closers in the following seasons. Moreover, he became the central figure of a Yankees bullpen that, supported by middle relievers Jeff Nelson, Mike Stanton, and Ramiro Mendoza, contributed to the team's late-1990s dynasty.[37] In 1998, Rivera saved 36 games in 41 opportunities and finished with a 1.91 ERA.[24] His success was aided by the increased usage of his cutter, which quickly became his signature pitch and earned a reputation for breaking hitters' bats with its sharp lateral movement.[23] In the 1998 postseason, he saved six games and pitched 13 13 scoreless innings,[30] and he clinched the Yankees' sweep of the San Diego Padres in the 1998 World Series, capping off a season in which the Yankees won an MLB-record 125 games between the regular season and the postseason. By season's end, he had allowed only two earned runs in 35 career postseason innings pitched—a 0.51 ERA—qualifying him for the major league record for lowest career postseason ERA; it is a record he still holds through 141 innings pitched.[30][38]

In 1999, Rivera was voted onto the All-Star team with 23 saves and a 2.29 ERA in the first half.[35][39] That summer, the Yankee Stadium scoreboard production staff began playing the song "Enter Sandman" by heavy metal band Metallica as Rivera's entrance music. Staff members selected the song after witnessing in the previous year's World Series how enthusiastically San Diego fans reacted to closer Trevor Hoffman entering games accompanied by AC/DC's "Hells Bells". Although Rivera was indifferent about his entrance music, "Enter Sandman" soon became as much a part of his identity as a closer as his cutter did.[40] After recording three blown saves and a 7.84 ERA in July, he allowed just one earned run over his last 30 appearances.[39][41] He finished the season with a 1.83 ERA and 45 saves in 49 opportunities, his first time leading the majors in saves. He earned his first AL Rolaids Relief Man Award,[35] an annual award for the league's best closer based on their statistics. He was also given the World Series MVP Award for recording two saves and a win against the Braves in the 1999 World Series, in which he closed out the Yankees' championship title, and his third. He finished 1999 by pitching 43 consecutive scoreless innings across the regular season and postseason,[42] and he placed third in voting for the AL Cy Young Award.[43] After the season, he revealed tentative plans to retire and become a minister after playing four more seasons, though he backed off these plans the following year.[44]

In the offseason, Rivera lost his arbitration case, in which he requested an annual salary of $9.25 million, but the $7.25 million salary that the arbitrators awarded him instead set a baseball record for the highest arbitration award.[45] In the 2000 season, Rivera was selected as an All-Star for the third time, and he ended the season with 36 saves in 41 opportunities and a 2.85 ERA.[35] In the postseason, he saved six games and allowed three earned runs in 15 23 innings pitched.[30] He also set a new record for consecutive scoreless innings pitched in the postseason, a streak that ended shortly after at 34 13 innings.[46] In the 2000 World Series against the New York Mets, he clinched a championship for his team for the third consecutive year. It was his fourth World Series title overall. By this point, Rivera had established a reputation as an exceptional postseason performer[23]—journalist Jack Curry called him the "infallible weapon" and "the greatest reason the Yankees [were] three-time champions".[44]

Prior to the 2001 season, with one year remaining on his contract, Rivera signed a four-year, $39.99 million deal, the first long-term contract of his career.[47] That season, he was voted onto the All-Star team for a third consecutive year. He finished the season with a 2.34 ERA, a closer career-high 80 23 innings pitched, and an MLB-leading 50 saves in 57 opportunities—the second time he led the majors in saves.[35] This earned him his second AL Rolaids Relief Man Award.[2] Despite his stellar track record and what sportswriters deemed an "aura of invincibility" in the postseason,[48] Rivera failed to close out the decisive Game 7 of the 2001 World Series against the Arizona Diamondbacks. In one of his most infamous moments, he blew a save in the bottom of the ninth inning, in part due to his own throwing error, and he lost the Series later in the inning by allowing Luis Gonzalez's bloop single with the bases loaded to score the winning run.[2] It is the only loss in Rivera's postseason career,[49] and it snapped his record streak of 23 consecutive postseason saves converted.[46]


Injuries limited Rivera's playing time in 2002. He was first placed on the disabled list with a groin strain in June,[50] though his first-half numbers, which included a 1.47 ERA and 21 saves,[51] earned him an All-Star selection.[35] In July, he allowed six earned runs in a single relief outing and was sidelined by a shoulder strain, an injury that required two additional stints on the disabled list.[50][52] Overall, he finished with a 2.74 ERA and 28 saves in 32 opportunities in just 46 innings pitched.[24]

Rivera missed the first month of the 2003 season with another groin injury.[53] Despite concerns by sportswriters about his reliability,[54] Rivera quickly returned to form after re-assuming his closer role on May 1.[53] He recorded 40 saves in 46 opportunities with a 1.66 ERA in 64 games in the 2003 regular season.[24] In the 2003 American League Championship Series against the arch-rival Boston Red Sox, Rivera delivered one of the most memorable postseason performances of his career. In Game 7, he entered in the ninth inning with the score tied 5–5 and pitched three scoreless innings, en route to becoming the game's winning pitcher. Though Aaron Boone's eleventh-inning walk-off home run clinched the Yankees' World Series berth, Rivera was named the Championship Series MVP for recording two saves and a win.[55] He celebrated by running to the mound and collapsing in joy and exhaustion to thank God, as Boone rounded the bases and was met by his teammates at home plate.[55] The Yankees lost in the 2003 World Series to the Florida Marlins; Rivera saved five games and allowed only one earned run in 16 innings pitched that postseason.[30]

Prior to the 2004 season, with a year remaining on his contract, he signed a two-year extension worth $21 million, with an option for a third year in 2007.[56] During 2004, Rivera became the 17th pitcher in MLB history to record 300 saves,[57] and he made the All-Star team with 32 saves at the break, then an American League record.[35][58] He finished the season with a 1.94 ERA, and he led the majors in saves for a third time with a career-best 53 saves in 57 opportunities. He won his third AL Rolaids Relief Man Award and placed third in voting for the AL Cy Young Award.[35][59] Following the Yankees' victory in the 2004 American League Division Series against the Twins, Rivera returned home to Panama to mourn two relatives that had been killed in a swimming accident at his home.[60] Despite his status being in doubt for the American League Championship Series against the Red Sox, he returned to New York for Game 1 on the same day that the funeral was held in Panama. He recorded a save later that night, as well as in Game 2.[2] Although the Yankees led three-games-to-none in the series, Rivera blew saves in Games 4 and 5, and the Red Sox won both games in extra innings to avoid elimination. In Game 4, pinch runner Dave Roberts stole second base off Rivera and scored on a single to tie the game.[61] In Game 5, Rivera entered with a one-run lead with runners on base and allowed a sacrifice fly to tie the score.[61] Although he allowed just one earned run in the 2004 postseason, he blew three of five save opportunities in the two series.[30] Boston's comeback victories helped them become the first team in MLB history to win a best-of-seven series in which they trailed three-games-to-none.[61]

Following a career high in appearances in 2004, Rivera did not throw during the offseason, unlike previous years.[62] His 2005 season began on a low note. After missing time in spring training with elbow bursitis, he blew his first two save opportunities of the season against the Red Sox, marking four consecutive blown opportunities against Boston dating back to the previous postseason.[63] Fans at Yankee Stadium booed Rivera,[64] and baseball journalists speculated if his days as a dominant pitcher were over.[62][63][65] He was subsequently cheered by Red Sox fans during pre-game introductions at Fenway Park the following week, in recognition of his struggles against the Red Sox. He responded to the ovation with a sense of humor by tipping his cap to the crowd.[66]

Rivera rebounded in dominating fashion and finished 2005 with his greatest season to that point.[67] He made the All-Star team,[35] converted 31 consecutive save opportunities,[68] and finished the season with 43 saves in 47 opportunities. He set new career bests in many statistical categories, including ERA (1.38) and walks plus hits per inning pitched, or WHIP (0.87). Rivera limited opposing hitters to a batting average against of only .177, then a closer-career best. Along with winning his fourth AL Rolaids Relief Man Award,[35] Rivera placed second in the voting for the AL Cy Young Award to starter Bartolo Colón and ninth for the AL Most Valuable Player Award—his highest finishes in voting for both awards.[69] After the season, he was announced as the relief pitcher on MLB's Latino Legends Team, a fan-voted all-time roster of the greatest Latino players.[70]


Mariano Rivera in a gray baseball uniform and navy blue cap stands on a dirt mound. He is striding forward to the left as he holds a baseball in his forward-extended right arm. His face is contorted in concentration.
Rivera pitching in 2007

Rivera started 2006 with a 3.72 ERA and two losses in April,[71] but he recovered to make his third consecutive All-Star team with a 1.76 ERA and 19 saves entering the All-Star break.[72] He saved the 2006 MLB All-Star Game for a record-tying third career All-Star Game save.[73] On July 16, he reached another milestone, becoming the fourth pitcher in major league history to record 400 saves.[74] He was sidelined for most of September with a strain in his throwing elbow,[75] but he finished the 2006 season with 34 saves in 37 opportunities and an ERA of 1.80—his fourth consecutive season with a sub-2.00 ERA.[24] For a second consecutive year, fans voted him the Delivery Man of the Year.[76]

Before the 2007 season, Rivera attempted to extend his contract, which was to expire at the end of the year. Yankees management refused to negotiate near the start of the season, prompting him to respond that he would consider free agency after the season.[77] In April, Rivera blew his first two save opportunities, compiled two losses, and surrendered nine earned runs in 7 23 innings pitched.[78] Concerned sportswriters attributed his struggles to infrequent use, as the Yankees presented him with few situations to enter a game.[79] Rivera saved 30 of his next 32 opportunities and posted a 2.26 ERA over the final five months of the season.[78] In addition, he passed John Franco for third place on the all-time saves list with his 425th career save.[80] Still, 2007 was statistically his weakest season as a closer, as he recorded closer career worsts in earned runs (25), hits (68), and ERA (3.15). His 30 saves in 34 opportunities were his second-lowest total since 1997.[24] After the Yankees were eliminated from the playoffs in the opening round, he stated his intentions to test the free agent market;[81] he was unhappy that long-time Yankees manager Joe Torre was not re-signed and that the team's ownership was transitioning from George Steinbrenner to his sons.[82] Speculation that Rivera would sign elsewhere ended when he agreed to a three-year, $45 million contract with the Yankees, making him the highest-paid reliever in baseball history.[83]

Mariano Rivera in a white pinstriped baseball uniform and navy blue cap stands on a dirt mound. He is striding forward to the left as he clutches a baseball behind his head. The back of his uniform reads "42" in navy blue numbers.
In 2008, Rivera posted career-best numbers in many statistical categories.

Rivera rebounded in 2008 by starting the year with 16 consecutive scoreless innings pitched and 28 consecutive save opportunities converted, both personal bests to begin a season.[21] His first-half performance, highlighted by a 1.06 ERA and 23 saves in as many opportunities,[84] earned him his ninth All-Star selection. Leading up to 2008 MLB All-Star Game, which was held at Yankee Stadium in the venue's final year of existence, a few sportswriters proposed making Rivera the AL's starting pitcher as a tribute to him and his home ballpark;[85][86] he instead was used as a reliever in the AL's extra-inning win.[21] In the final month of the season, he recorded two milestones: on September 15, he recorded his 479th save to pass Lee Smith for second all-time in regular season saves;[87] on September 21, in the final game at Yankee Stadium, Rivera threw the final pitch in the venue's history, retiring the Baltimore Orioles' Brian Roberts on a ground-out.[88] After the Yankees missed the postseason for the first time in his career, Rivera disclosed that he had suffered from shoulder pain throughout the year. Tests revealed calcification of the acromioclavicular joint in his throwing shoulder, for which he underwent minor arthroscopic surgery in the offseason.[89]

Rivera finished 2008 with one of his best individual seasons. Along with a 1.40 ERA and 39 saves in 40 opportunities, he set career bests in multiple statistical categories, including WHIP (0.67), on-base plus slugging (OPS)-against (.422), batting average against (.165), save conversion rate (97.5%), walks (6), earned runs (11), and blown saves (1). He averaged 9.81 strikeouts per 9 innings pitched, his best mark as a closer.[35] He pitched with such control that his 12.83 strikeout-to-walk ratio made him the second pitcher since 1900 to record a figure that high in a season.[21] He placed fifth in the AL Cy Young Award voting.[90]


Mariano Rivera wearing a dark pea coat and gray scarf smiles while holding a red, white, and blue flag. He stands in front of a red, white, and blue logo that reads "Yankees".
Rivera during the 2009 World Series victory parade, celebrating his fifth championship

In Rivera's first 12 appearances of 2009, he surrendered four home runs and notched a 3.97 ERA,[91] leading to speculation about his cutter's effectiveness and his shoulder's health at age 39.[92] As the season progressed, his numbers improved, and he reached a milestone on June 28 by becoming the second pitcher to reach 500 regular season saves. In the same game, he recorded his first career run batted in by drawing a walk with the bases loaded against fellow closer Francisco Rodríguez.[93] Rivera earned a tenth All-Star selection with 23 saves in 24 opportunities and a 2.43 ERA in the first half.[94] At the 2009 MLB All-Star Game, he set a record by saving his fourth career All-Star Game.[95] In the season's second half, Rivera allowed earned runs in only two of his final 40 appearances,[96] while he set a new personal best for consecutive save opportunities converted with 36.[97] He finished the regular season with a 1.76 ERA, 44 saves in 46 opportunities, and a 0.90 WHIP.[24] In the postseason, he pitched 16 innings, allowing one earned run and saving five games,[30] and he clinched the Yankees' victory in the 2009 World Series against the Philadelphia Phillies—his fifth championship. He was the only closer among postseason teams that did not record a loss or blown save.[98] He collected several awards at season's end, including his third Delivery Man Award,[99] his fifth AL Rolaids Relief Man Award, and the 2009 Sporting News Pro Athlete of the Year Award.[100] Reflecting on the decade's end,'s Jerry Crasnick called Rivera the most valuable major league pitcher of the previous 10 years.[101]

In 2010, Rivera and two of his "Core Four" teammates, Derek Jeter and Jorge Posada, became the first trio in any of the four North American major sports leagues to play together on the same team in 16 consecutive seasons.[102] Rivera began with one of his best first halves, compiling a 1.05 ERA, 20 saves in 22 opportunities, and 0.64 WHIP before the All-Star break,[103] and in June, he set a personal best streak with 24 consecutive batters retired.[104] He earned an 11th All-Star selection but withdrew from the game to rest lingering oblique and knee injuries.[105] In the second half, he was less effective—he struck out batters half as often, and in September, he compiled three blown saves and a 4.76 ERA.[103] His final numbers included a 1.80 ERA and 0.83 WHIP, but his 33 saves in 38 opportunities and 6.75 strikeouts per 9 innings ratio were among the lowest of his career.[24] In the postseason, he pitched 6 13 scoreless innings while saving three games.[30] After becoming a free agent in the offseason, Rivera agreed to a two-year, $30 million contract to remain with the Yankees.[106]

In the offseason, Trevor Hoffman retired as the all-time regular season saves leader with a final tally of 601, leaving Rivera as the active leader in saves and 42 behind Hoffman's record to start 2011.[107] Rivera's season was marked by several milestones. In the first half, in addition to breaking the all-time record for games finished,[108] he became the 15th pitcher to make 1,000 appearances, and the first to do so with a single team.[109] He was named an All-Star for the 12th time with a 1.85 ERA and 22 saves in 26 opportunities at the break,[110] but for the second consecutive year, he skipped the game to rest injuries.[111] His pursuit of Hoffman's saves record reached a climax in the final month of the season; on September 13, he collected his 600th save, making him just the second pitcher to accomplish the feat.[112] Four days later, he saved his 601st game, tying him for the most in MLB history.[113] Rivera broke the record on September 19 at Yankee Stadium by closing out a 6–4 win against the Twins, the final out by strikeout.[114] After the game, President of Panama Ricardo Martinelli called him to offer his congratulations.[115] Rivera finished the season with a 1.91 ERA, a 0.90 WHIP, and 44 saves in 49 opportunities,[35] making him the first pitcher over the age of 40 to save at least 40 games in a season.[116]

Player profile

Pitching style

Rivera's signature pitch is his cut fastball or "cutter". The pitch breaks sharply towards left-handed hitters, exhibiting late lateral movement similar to a slider, but with the velocity of a fastball.[36] The pitch's sharp movement is created by Rivera's long fingers and loose wrist, which allow him to impart more spin on the ball.[117][118] He varies the cutter's movement by adjusting the pressure he puts on the ball with his fingertips.[36] He almost exclusively throws cutters—according to baseball statistics website Fangraphs, 83.3% of Rivera's pitches in 2010 were cutters.[119] He occasionally mixes in a four-seam and two-seam fastball, and he throws all three pitches in the low-to-mid 90s mph.[23][119][120] Rivera accidentally discovered the cutter while playing catch with Ramiro Mendoza in June 1997, finding that the fastballs he threw in the bullpen were moving sharply and unpredictably. After failing to straighten out the pitch and prevent the movement altogether, he accepted it and began to use the pitch in games, prominently featuring it beginning in 1998.[36] When asked where his ability to throw the pitch came from, he explained, "It was just from God. I didn't do anything. It was natural."[121]

"You know what's coming, but you know what's coming in horror movies too. It still gets you."

Mike Sweeney, on the difficulty of hitting Rivera's cutter despite expecting it[36]

Rivera's cut fastball is a respected pitch among major league hitters.[2][120] It frequently breaks the bats of hitters—Chipper Jones compared it to a "buzzsaw" after witnessing teammate Ryan Klesko break three bats in one plate appearance against Rivera in the 1999 World Series.[22][65] Jim Thome called it "the single best pitch ever in the game".[122] In 2004, ranked his cutter as the best "out pitch" in baseball.[123] Buster Olney described his cut fastball as "the most dominant pitch of a generation".[124] Although switch-hitters usually bat left-handed against right-handed pitchers to better see the ball's release point, switch-hitters occasionally bat right-handed when facing the right-handed Rivera to avoid being jammed on their hands by his cutter.[125][126] Similarly, some managers, such as Bruce Bochy in the 1998 World Series, have sent right-handed batters to pinch hit for left-handed batters against Rivera, thinking that the cutter would be more difficult for lefties to hit.[127]

Since Rivera relies on variations of a fastball, all of similar speed, much of his success can be attributed to his ability to consistently throw strikes.[128] His 4.04 career strikeout-to-walk ratio in the regular season ranks fifth-best in major league history.[129] Rivera's impeccable control is a byproduct of his smooth pitching delivery, as an easily repeatable throwing motion allows a pitcher to yield consistent results.[36]

Rivera is considered an exceptional athlete, distinguished by his slender physique and durability.[117] His propensity to shag balls during batting practice convinced scouts he could be a top AL center fielder. Buster Olney compared his regimen of physical preparation and guidelines for staying healthy to Satchel Paige's "Rules for Staying Young".[130]


Rivera exhibits a reserved demeanor on the field that contrasts with the emotional, demonstrative temperament of many of his peers.[36] Hall of Fame closer Goose Gossage said that Rivera's composure under stress gave him the appearance of having "ice water in his veins".[23][131] Commenting on his ability to remain focused in pressure situations, Rivera said, "When you start thinking, a lot of things will happen... If you don't control your emotions, your emotions will control your acts, and that's not good." His ability to compartmentalize his successes and failures impressed fellow reliever Joba Chamberlain, who said, "He's won and lost some of the biggest games in the history of baseball, and he's no worse for the wear when he gives up a home run."[132] Rivera explained his ability to quickly forget bad performances: "win or lose, you have to forget about it. Right on the spot... the game that you're going to play tomorrow is not going to be the same game that you just played."[133] Derek Jeter called him the "most mentally tough" teammate with whom he has ever played.[67]

Within the Yankees organization, Rivera is regarded as a team leader. As a veteran player, he mentors younger pitchers and counsels teammates.[134] He has a team-first mindset and defers most discussions about individual accolades to team goals and his teammates, praising them for making his presence in games a necessity.[112] When once asked to describe his job, Rivera put it simply, "I get the ball, I throw the ball, and then I take a shower."[135]


"When you go back and look at his career and what he's done with that one pitch, I don't think there's a greater achievement in this game than that. To go through major league hitters and dominate for all those years, it's one of the greatest feats I'll ever look back on... I don't think people realize how incredible it really is. It will never be duplicated, ever."

Rivera has been a dominant reliever throughout his career, pitching with a consistency and longevity uncharacteristic of a role commonly marked by volatility and high turnover.[79][137] In his 15-year stint as the Yankees' closer, Rivera has compiled considerable career numbers. A 12-time All-Star, he is the majors' all-time regular season leader in saves (603) and games finished (882).[35] His save conversion rate of 89.33% is the best percentage among pitchers with at least 200 saves.[114] He has finished 15 consecutive seasons with at least 25 saves and 14 seasons with at least 30 saves, both of which are records.[138][139] Statistically, Rivera ranks as one of the top pitchers of his generation, amongst both starters and relievers; his WHIP (1.00) and ERA (2.21) are the lowest of any pitcher in the live-ball era, making him one of the top pitchers since 1920 at preventing hitters from reaching base and scoring.[140] Rivera also has the best adjusted ERA+ (206) in MLB history, meaning the league average ERA is 106% more than Rivera's career mark, adjusted for ballpark.[141]

In the postseason, Rivera has recorded even stronger numbers than he has in the regular season.[4][60] He has a postseason win–loss record of 8–1 and WHIP of 0.76,[30] and he holds numerous postseason records, including lowest ERA (0.70), most saves (42),[38] most consecutive scoreless innings pitched (34 13), most consecutive save opportunities converted (23),[46] and most appearances (96).[38] No pitcher has half as many postseason saves as he does.[4] Joe Torre, who managed Rivera for most of his career, said, "Let's face it. The regular season for Mo is great, but that's the cupcakes and the ice cream. What separates him from everybody else is what he's done in the postseason."[36] Rivera's dominance in postseason games has often led to him being utilized for two-inning appearances,[4] as he has a record 14 saves of this variety.[142] Between 1998 and 2008, he recorded 26 postseason saves of four or more outs; the second-highest total by any other pitcher was four such saves, and the rest of baseball combined had 33.[36] At the start of the 2011 playoffs, Rivera ranked first all-time in win probability added in the postseason with 11.62, more than three times the total of the next-closest player.[143] In a 2009 poll, Rivera was voted one of the top five postseason players in MLB history.[144] Based on his postseason contributions, many baseball journalists consider him to be the most valuable Yankees player from the team's late-1990s championship seasons.[67][145]

Jorge Posada wearing catcher's equipment shakes hands with Mariano Rivera on a grass field.
Rivera shakes Jorge Posada's hand after finishing a game.

Rivera has achieved a reputation as an all-time great reliever among baseball experts and fellow players.[3][23][146] Hall of Fame starter-turned-closer Dennis Eckersley called him "the best ever, no doubt",[22] while Trevor Hoffman said he "will go down as the best reliever in the game in history".[23] Torre said, "He's the best I've ever been around. Not only the ability to pitch and perform under pressure, but the calm he puts over the clubhouse."[56] Writer Tom Verducci said, "That Rivera is the greatest closer that ever lived is obvious", and he compared Rivera's reputation as the best at his position to that of Michael Jordan and Wayne Gretzky.[147] Speaking about Rivera's looming presence at the end of games, Alex Rodriguez said, "He's the only guy in baseball who can change the game from a seat in the clubhouse or the bullpen. He would start affecting teams as early as the fifth inning, because they knew he was out there. I've never seen anyone who could affect a game like that."[145] Goose Gossage, a multiple-inning closer from earlier decades, disagreed about Rivera's place in history, believing that the modern role of closer that Rivera occupies has become too specialized and easy compared to past closers: "Mariano Rivera is a great relief pitcher. In the modern sense. What he did and what we used to do is apples and oranges. It's not fair to compare what closers today do with what we did." Although voters have historically been reluctant to allow relievers into the Baseball Hall of Fame, sportswriters anticipate Rivera will be elected in his first year of eligibility.[4][148][149]

Rivera is well respected among his peers for his professionalism. Fellow closer Joe Nathan said, "I look up to how he's handled himself on and off the field... You never see him show up anyone and he respects the game. I've always looked up to him and it's always a compliment to be just mentioned in the same sentence as him."[150] Michael Young said of Rivera, "I respect Mo more than anybody in the game. The guy goes out there, gets three outs and shakes [Jorge] Posada's hand. You appreciate someone who respects the game like he does, respects the people he plays with and against, and obviously his results speak for themselves."[151]

Many of Rivera's colleagues credit him with popularizing the cutter among major league pitchers. Fellow closer Jason Isringhausen, who adopted the pitch later in his career, said, "I think he's been an influence on everybody that throws it. Everybody saw what [Rivera] could do, basically with one pitch. Nobody could throw it like he did, but now, you talk about the evolution of the cutter—just ask hitters about it and they tell you everybody's throwing one. And they hate it." Al Leiter, whose signature pitch was a cutter, echoed Isringhausen's sentiments: "Now, everybody throws it and Mo has had a huge influence on that. Pitchers watched him and marveled at what he did with one pitch."[152]

Rivera will be the last MLB player to wear the uniform number 42 on a regular basis, as he is the only active player still wearing the number after its league-wide retirement in 1997 in honor of Jackie Robinson.[32]

Personal life

Rivera and his wife Clara have known each other since elementary school,[117] and they were married on November 9, 1991. They have three sons: Mariano Jr., Jafet, and Jaziel.[21] Rivera is a cousin of former Yankee Rubén Rivera.[21] Over the course of his professional career, Rivera learned English, beginning in 1991 with the Greensboro Hornets, when he realized none of his teammates spoke Spanish.[153] He is now a proponent of Latino players learning English and of American press members learning Spanish, in order to bridge the cultural gap.[154]

Rivera is a devout Christian. During his childhood, neither he nor his family attended church, but after a born-again experience in his early 20s, Rivera—and subsequently his parents—became religious.[117] He maintains that God has a reason for everything that happens. For example, he found his failure in Game 7 of the 2001 World Series easier to deal with when he learned of the consequences it had on a teammate. Had the Yankees won Game 7 and the World Series, teammate Enrique Wilson would have remained in New York a few extra days for the ticker tape parade and would have flown home to the Dominican Republic on American Airlines Flight 587, which crashed shortly after takeoff, killing all 260 people aboard. Rivera told Wilson, "I am glad we lost the World Series, because it means that I still have a friend."[155] Rivera's pitching glove is inscribed "Phil. 4:13", in reference to the Bible verse Philippians 4:13 ("I can do all things through Christ, who strengthens me").[156]

Rivera is involved with philanthropic contributions in his native Panama, which include building an elementary school and a church, providing Christmas gifts to children, and developing a program that provides computer access and adult mentors to youths.[21] The Mariano Rivera Foundation annually distributes more than $500,000 to underprivileged children in the US and Panama through church-based institutions. Rivera intends to dedicate himself to philanthropy after retiring from baseball.[117]

Rivera is a partner in a restaurant in New Rochelle, New York that opened as "Mo's New York Grill".[1] He is signed to endorsement deals with Nike sports apparel[157] and Canali, a premium men's clothing company. He is the first athlete Canali has used in a marketing campaign.[158] A 2011 list by the marketing firm Nielsen ranked Rivera as the second-most marketable player in baseball. The list accounted for personal attributes such as sincerity, approachability, experience, and influence.[159]

Career highlights

Awards and honors

Award/Honor # of Times Dates Refs
American League All-Star 12 1997, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011 [35]
American League Championship Series MVP Award[a] 1 2003 [35]
American League Player of the Week 3 May 26–June 1, 2008; June 22–28, 2009; September 19–25, 2011 [116]
American League Rolaids Relief Man Award[b] 5 1999, 2001, 2004, 2005, 2009 [35]
Babe Ruth Award 1 1999 [35]
Clutch Performer of the Month 1 June 2010 [160]
Delivery Man of the Year Award[c] 3 2005, 2006, 2009 [99]
Delivery Man of the Month Award 2 April 2008, July 2009 [161]
Sporting News Pro Athlete of the Year Award 1 2009 [100]
Sporting News Reliever of the Year Award[c] 6 1997, 1999, 2001, 2004, 2005, 2009 [162]
This Year in Baseball's Closer of the Year Award[c] 4 2004, 2005, 2006, 2009 [163]
Thurman Munson Award 1 2003 [21]
World Series MVP Award[a] 1 1999 [35]
World Series champion 5 1996, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2009 [35]
  1. ^ a b Only reliever to win both a League Championship Series MVP Award and World Series MVP Award
  2. ^ Tied for most times won
  3. ^ a b c Most times won


Stats updated through 2011
MLB Records
Accomplishment Record Refs
Regular season
Most career saves 603 [35]
Most career games finished 883 [164]
Highest career adjusted ERA+ (minimum 1,000 innings pitched) 206 [141]
Highest career save conversion rate (minimum 200 saves) 89.33% [114]
Most consecutive save opportunities converted at home[a] 51 [165]
Most career appearances with single team
Most career appearances in American League history
1,042 [109][166]
Most seasons with at least 20 saves[b]
Most seasons with at least 25 saves
Most consecutive seasons with at least 25 saves
15 (1997–2011) [138][167]
Most seasons with at least 30 saves[b] 14 (1997–2001, 2003–11) [139]
Most consecutive seasons with at least 30 saves 9 (2003–11) [168]
Most seasons with 20-plus saves and sub-2.00 ERA 11 (1997–99, 2003–06, 2008–11) [169]
Most seasons with 20-plus saves, sub-2.00 ERA, and sub-1.00 WHIP 7 (1999, 2005–06, 2008–11) [170]
Most career saves for a single winning pitcher 68 (Andy Pettitte) [171]
Most career interleague saves 68 [172]
Most career saves in a single ballpark 230 (original Yankee Stadium) [21]
Lowest career ERA (minimum 30 innings pitched) 0.70 [38]
Most career saves 42 [38]
Most consecutive scoreless innings pitched 34 13 [46]
Most consecutive save opportunities converted 23 [46]
Most career two-inning saves 14 [142]
Most career appearances 96 [38]
Most career saves in each postseason round 18 (LDS), 13 (LCS), 11 (WS) [173][174][175]
Most career appearances in each postseason round 39 (LDS), 33 (LCS), 24 (WS) [173][174][175]
Lowest career ERA in Division Series history 0.32 [173]
Most career saves to clinch series 9 [176]
Most times in career recording the final out of a series 16 [177]
Most times in career recording the final out of a World Series 4 [178]
Most consecutive postseasons with an appearance 13 (1995–2007)
All-Star Game
Most All-Star selections as reliever 12 [179]
Most All-Star Game saves 4 [95]
Yankees Records
Accomplishment Record Refs
Regular season
Most saves in single season 53 (2004) [180]
Highest career strikeout-to-walk ratio 4.04 [180]
Lowest career WHIP 1.00 [180]
Most strikeouts by a reliever in single season 130 (1996) [29]
Highest strikeouts per 9 innings in single season 10.87 (1996) [180]
Most consecutive save opportunities converted 36 [181]
Most games finished in single season 69 (2004) [180]
  1. ^ Tied for most times with Éric Gagné
  2. ^ a b Tied for most times with Trevor Hoffman

See also


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