I remember the first time I saw Mariano Rivera. Coincidentally enough it was his first major league game.
The year was 1995, long before the advent of the smart phone and the Internet age—and long before Bleacher Report.
I was a senior in high school living in New York City. New York Yankees games at the time were televised on the Madison Square Garden network. I vaguely remember the game in question.
Rivera was pitching against the California Angels. Historical records indicate that Rivera was selected to start due to an injury to Jimmy Key. His game line was far from stellar. The official line: 3.1 IP, 8 H, 5 K, 3 BB, 5 ER.
I didn't think much of him
Quite honestly, I didn't think much of the Yankees at the time either.
To a fan, the Yankees at that time were a total disappointment. I grew up in the age of Kevin Mass, Steve Trout and Matt Nokes. The Yankee teams of the late 80's and early 90's were far from competitive.
They were perennial doormats for better-run organizations such as the Oakland A's, Minnesota Twins and Toronto Blue Jays. It looked like the Yankees were on the verge of breaking their postseason drought in 1994 when they sported the best record in the American League.
Then came the players strike.
I remember being disenchanted with baseball. My friends and I used to spend our days talking about the NBA and the New York Knicks. But for some reason, I don't know why, I still had some hope that the Yankees would be successful again.
Rivera would be the first piece of what would become known as the "Core Four." The "Core Four" consisted of Rivera, Andy Pettitte, Derek Jeter and Jorge Posada. The term was coined because these four players were part of each of the Yankees' five World Championship teams from 1996-2009.
The "Great Mariano" was not truly discovered until the 1996 season when he inherited the right-handed setup role in the Joe Torre bullpen. Rivera would post a 8-5 record with a 2.09 ERA.
Some have wondered whether or not he could have made a difference in Game 5 or the 1995 American League Division Series. The Yankees lost the series finale 6-5 in the bottom of the 12th inning on an Edgar Martinez game-winning double off of Jack McDowell.
Rivera would assume the closer duties in 1997 after incumbent closer John Wettleland chose to sign a free-agent deal with the Texas Rangers. He would post 43 saves in his first season as closer but would be most remembered for surrendering an ALDS Game 4 game-tying home run to Sandy Alomar Jr.
The Yankees wound up losing the series to the Cleveland Indians and some started to question whether or not Rivera could bounce back from the postseason disaster.
Rivera would compile 117 saves over the next three seasons, contributing to three World Championships. His postseason numbers were equally as stellar, compiling 18 saves and a sub 2.00 ERA.
The Yankees were on the verge of winning their fourth straight championship in 2001 but were denied by the Arizona Diamondbacks. A broken bat blooper by Luis Gonzales off the almost-perfect Rivera ended the Yankees first title reign.
It would be another eight years before the Yankees and Rivera would be the best in baseball. Rivera would be key contributor to the 2009 championship run, culminating with two saves and a 0.00 ERA in the World Series against the Philadelphia Phillies.
Is Rivera the greatest Yankee ever?
I feel he is in the discussion.
His career numbers are awesome and not just his regular season numbers. Through 2011, Rivera is 75-57, 2.21 ERA, with 883 saves! Those numbers are quite impressive. What is even more impressive and quite mind-boggling are his postseason numbers. Through 2011, Rivera is 8-1, with 42 saves and a 0.70 ERA.
It's safe to say Rivera was the main difference between the Yankees winning five championships and teams such as the Atlanta Braves winning more than one.
At 42, this could possibly be the last season for Rivera. I can definitely say I think very highly of him, a future Hall-of-Famer.