By Sweeny Murti
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Continuing our conversation with Mariano Rivera about 10 defining moments in his career:
Yesterday we looked back at the valuable experience gained in 1995 and 1996. In 1997 that experience led the Yankees to let John Wetteland leave via free agency and make Rivera their closer, though untested fully in that role.
He finished that season 43 saves, but also nine blown saves. Rivera suffered a 10th blown save in the playoffs, the famous home run by Sandy Alomar Jr. that helped Cleveland beat the Yankees in the Division Series.
The entire Yankees team used that 1997 loss as motivation. What followed was maybe the best season for one team in baseball history.
1998: The Final Out
After 114 regular season wins, the Yankees swept Texas in three games, beat Cleveland in six games, and swept San Diego in four games to win the World Series for the second time in three years. Rivera was on the mound for the final out for the first of four times in his career. Millions watched, but only one man knows what it felt like to get that final out.
“It was no price for that,” Rivera said. “Two outs and adrenaline is rushing, and oh my God, just one more out to win the World Series! But at the same time you have to control yourself and make sure you deliver the pitch with the purpose and commitment. When we got the out (a ground ball by Mark Sweeney to Scott Brosius) it was like a release, ‘Wow, we did it! It’s over, it’s finished.’ Amazing feeling.”
2001: The Final Out That Never Came
After helping turn the Yankees into a dynasty with World Series wins again in 1999 and 2000, Rivera and the Yankees were trying to win their fourth straight when they took a ninth-inning lead into Game 7 against the Diamondbacks in the 2001 World Series. That “amazing feeling” never came, thanks to an Arizona rally that sometimes still feels like it never really happened.
But it did.
“At the time I was thinking we were definitely winning the game, even though we hadn’t won a game there yet,” Rivera said. (The home team had won all six games in the series to that point and Rivera was trying to hold a one-run lead.)
“You could hear a pin drop in that stadium, that’s how quiet it was. And then Mark Grace got a single.”
A single, a sacrifice bunt and a wild throw, another bunt, a double, a hit batter, and then the series-winning hit for Arizona, the blooper by Luis Gonzalez.
What seemed like a certainty, Rivera closing out the World Series, was not meant to be.
“Those games, you always bring your best,” Rivera said. “Sometimes your best is not enough. And that’s what I took from that. It wasn’t (meant) for us. If it was (meant) for us, we would have won that game, especially that Game 7. To me it was good — we gave everything, I gave everything, the whole team gave everything, and we fell short.”
Tomorrow, the wave of emotions in The Aaron Boone Game and the final game at Old Yankee Stadium.
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