Sunday, September 22, 2013


Jeff Nelson article on Rivera in NY Daily News

9/21/13, "Ex-Yankees reliever Jeff Nelson says it didn't take long to see the greatness in Mariano Rivera," by / NEW YORK DAILY NEWS

"Nelson, who pitched with Rivera in the Yankees bullpen from 1996-2000, and again in 2003, calls the retiring closer the greatest Yankee he played with or against."

"Pitching in the same bullpen with Mariano Rivera for five years, it was easy to see why he’s the greatest closer in the history of baseball.
That greatness, however, was evident to me before we ever suited up in the same uniform.

In 1995, while pitching for the Seattle Mariners, I saw Mariano pitch against us during the American League Division Series. He came into Game 2 in the 12th inning and pitched 3 1 / 3 innings of shutout ball, striking out five to earn the win.

I heard Tino Martinez and the other hitters talk about facing him and they were amazed. It’s a good thing Buck Showalter didn’t use him in big situations — he was still a young pitcher, one that had struggled as a starter that season — or the Yankees would have beaten us in that series.

When I joined the Yankees in 1996, it didn’t take long to see how special he was. You can never project what a guy’s career is going to be like by the time he retires, but even in ’96 when he was throwing two unhittable innings just about every time out, I thought, “as long as he can stay healthy, he’s going to be dominant for a long time.” Aside from that knee injury last year, he’s been very fortunate and very durable. Mariano was going two innings at a time, taking a day or two off and then doing it again to get the ball to John Wetteland. In baseball, you need everybody to win. There’s not one player who can do it by himself. But if we didn’t have Mariano, we probably don’t win all those championships. He was just that dominant.

He repeated his mechanics every time and he’s probably one of the best fielding pitchers I’ve ever seen. Once that cutter came into play, it was all he threw and nobody could touch him. He was so smooth. The ball would just get on hitters with that late life. Guys just couldn’t hold off of it. We always loved watching managers send up lefthanded pinch-hitters. All it did was create more firewood.

Wetteland had a great year for us in 1996 and played a big role in our World Series win over the Braves. But once he became a free agent, we knew we had a closer waiting in the wings. Nobody knew what he would go on to do, but seeing Mariano’s dominance in ’96, you knew it was his time. The greatest thing about a reliever, especially him, is not showing emotion.

Whether he gives up the game — which is a rarity — or he saves a game, you never see one side or the other. He’s not a rah-rah guy when he wins, and he doesn’t put his head between his legs and walk off the mound when he loses. Nothing bothers him. He can blow a big game, then come back and convert his next 10 opportunities with ease.

Keep in mind, it isn’t like he did this in Atlanta or Baltimore; he did it in the most high-profile city in all of sports. When Mr. Steinbrenner was around, you knew if you messed up, he would let you have it. It was almost automatic that you would be on the back page.

Mariano’s first year in the closer role, he gave up that huge home run to Sandy Alomar Jr. in the ALDS and we lost to the Indians. Then he came back in 1998 and we won 125 games, largely because of him.

A lot of that credit has to go to Joe Torre, who didn’t have a doghouse and kept throwing him out there as he learned to be a closer. That’s important, keep putting him in that situation and believing in him, the same way he did with Derek Jeter when he gave him the shortstop job in 1996. Mariano was his guy and he knew that was going to be his job. It makes it a little easier to take when you mess up because you know you’re going to be in the same situation. Mariano knew that Joe had that confidence in him.

Mariano has always been a very quiet, very business-like guy. When a game was close, he was as focused as anybody I’ve ever seen. We all were. After the fifth inning, Mariano, Mike Stanton and I would start focusing on who we were going to pitch against, getting ourselves prepared mentally.

There were times that I got to see the lighter side of Mariano, too. When it was a blowout, we could have some fun down there. You would see him join in some of the reindeer games, have fun and laugh. In the bullpen, you really don’t talk a whole lot of baseball. The game is tough enough. If you’re constantly in that intense state, you’ll drive yourself crazy.

When I think of Mariano, I see him raising his arms after the World Series wins. Every other time, you wouldn’t see any emotion out of him on the mound either way. He’s the same guy all the time. I can’t think of anyone else that shows no emotion on the mound whether it’s getting mad at yourself or pumping your fist after a big out.

Nobody can ever duplicate the cutter he has; you can try, but everybody has a different release on the baseball. For me, his ability to overcome adversity is what makes him who he is.

Think about his blown saves in the postseason against the Indians, Diamondbacks and Red Sox; he bounced back each time and continued to be as dominant as ever. Most pitchers never get over those types of events. When they say there’s ice running through your veins, he’s the perfect example.

It was an honor to pitch before him. It made it easier knowing you had a guy like him behind you because you wanted to do your job to get him the ball.

Mariano helped teach me how to handle New York, how to have tough skin. I didn’t read the paper or listen to sports radio, because I already knew what I did in the game. It was more handling the city and the expectations. New York is the best place to pitch in all of baseball. You have pride putting on the pinstripes, and you want to do it the way Derek Jeter or Mariano Rivera do it. If you can handle adversity here, you can handle anything.

Watching Mariano pitch Sunday, he’s lost a few miles on his fastball and he moves the ball around a little more, but the mechanics have stayed the same. He’s lost some hair, but everything else looks the same. We’ll never see a closer like him again.

It’s a great honor to share this day with him at Yankee Stadium. He’s the greatest Yankee that I have ever played with and against."

"Jeff Nelson pitched with Mariano Rivera in the Yankees bullpen from 1996-2000, and again in 2003."


Ed. note: Please excuse unpleasant white patch behind most of this post which was put there by hackers. Imagine anyone thinking a blog this small merits hacking.


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