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Keefe To The City: Mariano The Myth; Yankee Closer’s Cutter Makes For Impossible Story

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Mariano Rivera

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By Neil Keefe
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One day I will tell my kids about the guy who threw one pitch and got everyone out.

It will be like the stories younger generations hear about — how things were in the old days. Like how my dad tells me how he would go across the entire town of West Haven, Conn. with his hockey bag on his shoulder to get to school and practice — a feat that seems impossible. And the way that I find it hard to believe he did such a thing, I expect my kids and their kids to listen to my stories about the greatest closer ever, but I don’t expect them to believe me when I tell them about Mariano Rivera.

I still don’t know how I will tell them about it, though I have quite a while to think about it. “There was this pitcher and he was the best pitcher ever. He would throw one pitch that everyone knew was coming and they still couldn’t hit it.” Yeah, that sounds believable…

Rivera has grown to the point of myth status like Zeus or Poseidon, and when “Enter Sandman” is no longer used as the introduction to the ninth inning in Yankee Stadium, it will be hard for anyone who didn’t see him pitch to understand or comprehend or wrap their mind around just how good and how dominant he was.

The common phrase used with Rivera these days is “There will never be anyone else like him.” And that’s true because no one can get to the majors with just a single pitch in their repertoire and no one could be successful in the majors with just a single pitch. But really there won’t be anyone else like him because there won’t be anyone else completely unfazed by pressure, who reacts the same way after the final out of the World Series as he does when he blows a save in the regular season.

There won’t be anyone with such a cool persona with the combination of a perfect delivery, pinpoint control and this amount of success. And to think at one point he was almost traded to the Tigers.

Is this another sob piece about the remaining members of the core? Kind of. Sort of. But it’s more a reason to take another moment to reflect on the career of the greatest closer in the history of baseball. And it won’t be the last time I do so before No. 42 goes from the bullpen in right field to Monument Park in center field.

I enjoy Paul O’Neill on the YES broadcast, but hearing him call games rather than playing makes me sad and nostalgic at the same time. And on Wednesday, when he used the telestrator to circle where he used to play in right field in the old Stadium, which is now a park, I almost broke down in tears. This fall will be 10 years since the “Paul O-Ne-ill” chants filled the Stadium during Game 5 of the 2001 World and 10 years since O’Neill last played for the Yankees and in the majors. Now to hear him talk about Jeter and Posada and Rivera, it’s almost as though I forget sometimes that he played with them, and that they are no longer the young guys on the team, but rather the oldest guys on the team.

David Cone joined Boomer and Carton on Wednesday and was asked if he could see what Jeter and Rivera would eventually become when they were with the Yankees for a brief time in 1995. He said he could sense that there was definitely talent there, but how could anyone really predict what would come out of the two players that were just two kids 16 years ago?

It’s these reasons why I take every appearance by Rivera now as if it’s his last, even though I know it won’t be. They are all valuable at this point. And while I spent the last 15 years just assuming and knowing he would be there for the ninth, he won’t always be. One day someone else will come out for the Yankees for the ninth and it will be an adventure like it is with every closer in baseball not named Mariano Rivera.

Now Mariano has appeared in 1,000 games for the Yankees. The first player to accomplish this feat with one team. Next on the list is the saves record, but he needs to get a save once in a while for that to happen and the opportunities just haven’t been there of late.

Even though the Yankees are 7-2 in their last nine games since losing six in a row — in what will hopefully be the lowest point of their 2011 season and the highest point for my blood pressure in 2011 — it doesn’t feel like that. The way A-Rod couldn’t believe the Yankees lead the league in runs when told about it recently, I can’t believe that they are in first place and have had so much success since the losing streak. It just doesn’t feel like it.

On Tuesday night, I tweeted, “Will Mariano ever get another save? I don’t know.” This came when the Yankees were losing before their soon-to-be Yankee Classic 5-4 comeback, but Rivera didn’t record a save in that game, or on Wednesday. So, now he hasn’t had a save since May 10 against the Royals, 15 games ago before the losing streak even started. But as long as the team keeps changing the left side of the standings column that Michael Kay has tried to make his own version of “Ballgame over! Yankees win! Theeeeeeeeeeeee Yankees win!” or his “Put in the books!” then it doesn’t really matter how they win.

For the first time this season the Yankees head to the West Coast where the surprising Mariners, hated Angels and pesky A’s await. Most people hate the West Coast trips and the late start times, but I’m one of the few that actually likes them. There are actually five types of games that make for a good change of pace to the 162-game schedule that can seem monotonous at times. Here they are in no particular order.

1. West Coast Games
I’m one of probably only a handful of people that like the West Coast games and the 10:05 start times. They’re unique and provide for a change of pace in a season that is made up mostly of the same 7:05 start times. But there’s more to it.

I like the late starts because, as my friends will say, I won’t go out on the weekends until after the Yankees games end. The late start time forces me to go out since earlier since the game won’t be over until before 1 a.m. Now this goes against my rule about not liking to watch Yankees games at bars or when I’m out if I’m not at the game, but sometimes there are exceptions to the rule.

It’s also a plus because there aren’t many late games each night, so all of your attention can be focused on the Yankees game and not wondering what the Red Sox or Rays are doing (especially true late in the season). Instead both teams have already played so you know what the Yankees have to do to pull ahead or at least stay even.

2. FOX Games
I despise the broadcast team of Joe Buck and Tim McCarver as much as the idea that Scotty McCreery won American Idol when he probably should have never made it past the auditions. Everyone hates when Buck and McCarver call Yankees games, including me, and I get that. But there’s something about the FOX games that make me like them.

As much as I can’t stand Buck and McCarver, their voices give regular season baseball a postseason feel because their voices have come to be the voices of October baseball, and their presence (while unwanted), heightens the importance of regular season games. Or at least it feels that way to me.

3. ESPN Games
Like the FOX games, there is a special element to Sunday Night Baseball on ESPN. The entire country has the opportunity to tune in, and again it enhances the status of the game.

The chemistry between Dan Shulman, Orel Hershiser and Bobby Valentine is about as painful to take as a shot of Tequila at the end of a night of beer drinking, and I never thought I would say this, but I actually miss Jon Miller and Joe Morgan. I always liked and enjoyed Jon Miller, his voice and his calls. It was Morgan’s constant reminder that he played in the league and that he was a Hall of Famer and that he would have done this or done that on a play that turned people off on the ESPN games. That and what seemed like a lack of knowledge on the two team’s Morgan was commentating on.

But there’s something special about the Sunday night game. There’s something exciting knowing that your team is closing out the week of baseball or starting the new of baseball (however you want to look at it), and I enjoy it.

4. Saturday Day Games
The Yankees get it and a lot of teams don’t. Saturday games should be played at 1:05 unless you’re on FOX or a West Coast team. I hate when the Yankees are on the road on Saturdays and it forces the start time of the game to the late afternoon or the night. It destroys the plans to go out earlier and to avoid getting trapped by a close or lengthy or extra-inning game that traps you into watching and eats up your Saturday night. Baseball on the weekends should be played in the afternoon.

5. Doubleheaders
Doubleheaders are the best unique quality of baseball and all sports. I love doubleheaders. It’s too bad they don’t happen on purpose.

I know that scheduling conflicts and collective bargaining are the reasons the removal of scheduled doubleheaders, and I think that is what makes them even more enjoyable now when they occur. I’m already pumped for the Yankees’ doubleheader with the Orioles in August. There should be more doubleheaders. Who cares about having to juggle your rotation, right?

I think my favorite sports moments are the Yankees-Mets doubleheaders that take place in the Bronx and Queens on the same day. Sure, a lot of luck is needed with the weather and timing, but when they happen, there’s nothing better for a New York sports fan.

Can you believe Mariano has done what he’s done? Sound off in the comments below…

Follow Neil on Twitter at http://twitter.com/NeilKeefe

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