Tuesday, June 26, 2007


Dennis Eckersley, Leo Mazzone: Mariano Rivera is the Best Ever (this will never be heard on ESPN)

"The best ever, no doubt about it," says Hall of Famer Dennis Eckersley, whose 15 postseason saves are second all-time. "No comparison. I didn't have the stuff he did. Not at all. The amazing thing is he's still got the stuff of a 20-year-old."

No less a pitching authority than Leo Mazzone agrees. "Of the great closers I've ever seen, he's in that top three who automatically shorten games," the Orioles' pitching coach says. "When Smoltzie (Braves righthander John Smoltz) was closing, it was as good as it gets. When (Eric) Gagne was on his roll in L.A., it was as good as it gets. But they haven't done it as long as Mariano, so Mariano gets the No. 1 slot."

Fabulous finishers

Sporting News editors pick the 10 best closers of all time.

1) Mariano Rivera. Has 34 postseason saves -- 19 more than anyone else. Oh, yeah, and he's one of only four closers with 400 or more saves in the regular season.

2) Dennis Eckersley. Averaged 37 saves -- and about one walk a month -- in his 10 seasons as a full-time closer.

3) Rollie Fingers. Hall of Famer won a Cy Young, MVP and World Series MVP and was No. 1 on the saves list when he finished his career.

4) Bruce Sutter. First pitcher to make the Hall without ever starting a game. Was the first National League reliever to reach 300 saves.

5) Trevor Hoffman. Needs 18 saves to become the all-time leader; is No. 1 all-time with an 89.5 conversion rate.

6) Goose Gossage. With 310 saves and 115 wins as a reliever, shouldn't he be in the Hall of Fame?

7) Lee Smith. Leads everyone with 478 saves and 581 save opportunities, but, like Goose, he has yet to get the call from the Hall.

8) Billy Wagner. Has held opponents to a .184 batting average during his 12-year career.

9) Tom Henke. Not quite as dominant as, say, Eric Gagne but had much greater staying power.

10) John Franco. His longevity -- 21 years, 424 saves -- should not be discounted.

Mention Rivera to those who have played or coached against or beside him and several themes emerge: composure, control and, always, the cutter.

According to Rivera, who is deeply religious, his cut fastball was a blessing. He was toying with various grips in '97 when he discovered one that made the ball "move like nothing else before." He had discovered the pitch that would define his career. Rivera throws his cutter at 95 mph, and it breaks so late teammate Jason Giambi says, "It seems like it gets to the plate and makes a straight left turn." Against lefthanded hitters, the cutter breaks in toward the hands "5 or 6 inches. The buzz-saw effect is amazing," Diamondbacks outfielder Luis Gonzalez says. Against righthanders, the pitch appears to be coming right at their front hip and, just when it looks as though it might hit them, breaks over the inside corner.

The view from shortstop is interesting when Rivera is working. "I see frustration (on hitters' faces) probably more than anything," says teammate Derek Jeter. "It's not like everyone is wondering, 'What's he going to throw this pitch?' Everyone knows it's coming. I don't even know why (catcher) Jorge (Posada) puts the sign down."

Says Posada: "But it's not only that he's got one pitch; it's the effect. When you throw in the mid-90s with movement, you're going to have success. He was able to develop a sinker about four or five years ago, so it's two different pitches on one pitch. Plus, he spots the ball wherever he wants."

October is Rivera's playground, the place where he cemented his legend and made himself a first-ballot Hall of Famer. When the Yankees reeled off World Series championships in 1998, 1999 and 2000, Rivera stood victorious on the mound at the end of each title-clinching game.

"We don't have Mo, I don't think we even win one," Posada says.

Of the 225 players in the Baseball Hall of Fame, only four -- Eckersley, Rollie Fingers, Hoyt Wilhelm and Bruce Sutter, who is being inducted this weekend -- were considered relievers and only Sutter was exclusively a reliever. But Eckersley says Rivera will usher in a new line of closers bound for Cooperstown.

"He's first in line," Eckersley says. "When the Hall opens for him, it opens for closers of his era and beyond."

Mazzone agrees. "He's made the Hall of Fame voters rethink things. They were a little reluctant to put in closers, but I think he solidifies any argument about that."

A's third baseman Eric Chavez, one of the few who has hit Rivera well, does not hesitate when asked about Rivera's status. "He's the first guy you think of and the last guy you want to face when you think of closers," Chavez says. "He's definitely the best of our era.""

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?